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Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council v. City of Maplewood

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 8, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant City of Maplewood, Missouri's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 19). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         Defendant City of Maplewood, Missouri ("Maplewood") is a municipality located in St. Louis County which has enacted a comprehensive Code of Ordinances ("City Code").[1]Maplewood requires renters to obtain an occupancy permit for $15, and without such occupancy permit, a person is not allowed to rent a dwelling or reside at another renter's dwelling. (Compl. ¶¶ 18-19, ECF No. 1) In 2006, Maplewood enacted a nuisance ordinance that permits occupancy to be revoked where the person is deemed a "nuisance." (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19) Plaintiff Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council ("EHOC") contends that the nuisance ordinance is drafted so broadly that the city has enormous discretion to decide which people the city will "exile." (Id. at ¶¶ 19-24) Specifically, the nuisance ordinance provides in relevant part:

In addition to any other act declared to be a nuisance by this Code or other ordinances of the city, nuisances are hereby defined and declared to be as follows:
(1) Any act done or committed, permitted or allowed to be done or committed, by any person, or any substance or thing kept, maintained, placed or found in or upon any public or private place which is injurious or dangerous to public health;
(2) Any pursuit followed or act done by any person to the hurt, injury, annoyance, inconvenience or damage of the public;
(17) Any premises upon which any of the following acts or conditions have occurred or continue to occur, whether by the owner, occupants or persons frequenting or congregating about the property:
f. More than two instances within a 180-day period of incidents of peace disturbance or domestic violence resulting in calls to calls to the police;

(Id. at ¶¶ 21-22; Def.'s Ex. A, City Code § 34-240, ECF No. 20-1) When a nuisance has been identified, the city manager or designee holds a hearing, and if a nuisance exists, the nuisance may be abated by revoking the occupancy permit for a period not to exceed six months. (Def Ex. A, City Code § 34-242, ECF No. 20-1)

         On March 13, 2017, Plaintiff EHOC filed a Complaint alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq., and the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.040, et seq. Plaintiff alleges that the nuisance ordinance discriminates against and disproportionately impacts non-white residents, women, and people with disabilities. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Maplewood disproportionately enforces the ordinance against its small African-American population to perpetuate Maplewood's status as a "white" community. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3, 16) Plaintiff further avers that enforcement of the nuisance ordinance punishes victims of domestic violence, African-American women in particular, and exiles them from Maplewood. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23, 28-33) Plaintiff also contends that the nuisance ordinance is enforced against individuals with disabilities, including those with mental illnesses. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-39)

         Plaintiff EHOC claims that Maplewood does not enforce its ordinance evenhandedly but instead knowingly and intentionally enforces the ordinance in a selective manner that discriminates against and has a disproportionate impact based on race, sex, and disability.[2] (Id. at ¶¶ 41-44) Plaintiff contends that Maplewood's discriminatory enforcement of its nuisance ordinance has frustrated and continues to frustrate the EHOC's mission of ensuring all people have equal access to housing. (Id. at ¶ 57) Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment that Defendant's actions violate the FHA and the MHRA; a permanent injunction restraining Defendant Maplewood from enforcing the nuisance ordinance; compensatory damages; punitive damages; and attorneys' fees and costs.

         II. Legal Standard

         With regard to motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must be dismissed if it fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (abrogating the "no set of facts" standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson,355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). While the Court cautioned that the holding does not require a heightened fact pleading of specifics, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his ' entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. In other words, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief ...

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