United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
United States of America brought this action against
defendants Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing
Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 to 3619
(“FHA”). Defendants have moved to dismiss the
plaintiff's complaint. (#4.)
to the complaint, the Webbs owned and operated several rental
properties in St. Louis, Missouri. In January 2012, Shakhari
Bell saw an advertisement for one of those rental properties
and spoke to Hezekiah Webb (“H. Webb”) about it.
H. Webb showed the property to Bell, and Bell signed a
year-long lease and moved into the unit on February 8, 2012.
Bell's girlfriend was present at the time Bell signed the
lease and moved in.
alleges that, from February 8 until the termination of
Bell's lease four months later, Bell was subjected to
severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment on
multiple occasions by H. Webb, including (1) demands to know
personal information about Bell such as whether she had a
boyfriend, how she engaged in sex with her girlfriend,
whether she and her girlfriend would engage in a threesome,
and whether they would engage in a threesome with H. Webb;
(2) sexual comments about Bell's body; (3) offers of
housing benefits like free or reduced rent in exchange for
sex; (4) a request or attempt to touch Bell's breasts;
and (5) H. Webb's watching Bell and her guests from
outside her home for no legitimate business reason. Bell
refused H. Webb's sexual advances and indicated to him
that his conduct was unwelcome.
accused Bell of violating the lease due to, among other
things, excessive noise and gambling. H. Webb refused to
accept Bell's April 2012 rent payment and filed an
eviction action against her on April 18, 2012. The state
court ruled in H. Webb's favor on June 1, 2012, and Bell
moved out of the rental property on June 8 or 9, 2012.
alleges that H. Webb's conduct made Bell feel
uncomfortable, helpless, anxious, and unsafe and that it was
unwelcome and offensive and was sufficiently severe such that
it had the effect of imposing different terms, conditions, or
privileges of her housing arrangement. Plaintiff also alleges
that H. Webb's conduct interfered with Bell's
enjoyment of housing. Finally, plaintiff alleges that H. Webb
made unwelcome sexual comments and advances to other tenants
between 2009 and 2013.
filed a timely complaint of sex discrimination with the
Department of Housing and Urban Development
(“HUD”) against defendants on April 19, 2013. The
proceedings that followed resulted in this lawsuit, which
includes two counts: Count I for denial of housing on the
basis of sex in violation of Section 804(a) of the FHA, 42
U.S.C. § 6604(a), discrimination in the terms,
conditions, or privileges of the rental of dwellings because
of sex, in violation of Section 804(b) of the FHA, 42 U.S.C.
§ 3604(b), the making of statements with respect to the
rental of dwellings indicating a preference, limitation, or
discrimination based on sex in violation of Section 804(c) of
the FHA, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c); and coercion,
intimidation, threats, or interference with persons in the
exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of their having
exercised or enjoyed, their rights under Section 804 of the
FHA, in violation of Section 818 of the FHA, 42 U.S.C. §
3617; and Count II for a pattern or practice of resistance to
the full enjoyment of rights granted by the FHA or denial to
a group of persons of rights granted by the FHA, where such
denial raises an issue of general public importance, in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a).
defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6).
purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim is to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint
so as to eliminate those actions “which are fatally
flawed in their legal premises and deigned to fail, thereby
sparing litigants the burden of unnecessary pretrial and
trial activity.” Young v. City of St. Charles,
244 F.3d 623, 627 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989)). “To
survive a motion to dismiss, a claim must be facially
plausible, meaning that the ‘factual content. . .
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'”
Cole v. Homier Dist. Co., Inc., 599 F.3d 856, 861
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009)). The Court must “accept the
allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.”
Id. (quoting Coons v. Mineta, 410 F.3d
1036, 1039 (8th Cir. 2005)). However, “[t]hreadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, ” will not pass muster.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
contend that plaintiff's allegations lack sufficient
factual details that would allow the Court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendants are liable for the
misconduct alleged. Here, plaintiff's claims may be
generally described as claims for (1) hostile housing
environment, (2) quid pro quo harassment, and (3)
pattern-or-practice and group-of-persons claims.
from employment law, a claim of hostile housing environment
caused by sexual harassment is actionable where the defendant
subjects an individual to unwelcome sexual harassment that is
sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to interfere with or
deprive the individual of her right to use or enjoy her home.
Quigley v. Winter, 598 F.3d 938, 947 (8th Cir.
2010). Defendants suggest plaintiff has not stated such a
claim because the complaint “lacks any allegations of
severe or humiliating conduct, such as sexual touching or
rape.” (#7 at 3.) Defendants also argue that the
complaint does not describe the frequency of the alleged
conduct (id.) and suggests that the allegations
“plead nothing more than the ordinary tribulations of
apartment living, such as the sporadic use of abusive
language, gender-related jokes, and occasional
teasing.” (Id. at 4.) It is true that Title
VII does not prescribe a “general civility code”
nor does it “prohibit ‘genuine but innocuous
differences in the ways men and women routinely interact with
members of the same sex and of the opposite sex.'”
Faragher v. City of Boca Raton,524 U.S. 775, 777-78
(1998) (quoting On ...