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Mitchell v. Sullivan Place Apartments

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

July 18, 2019

OSCAR MITCHELL, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Oscar Mitchell[1] for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court finds that the motion should be granted. Additionally, for the reasons discussed below, plaintiff will be directed to file an amended complaint.

         Legal Standard on Initial Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To state a claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a "mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw upon judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679. The court must "accept as true the facts alleged, but not legal conclusions or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016). See also Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 372-73 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that court must accept factual allegations in complaint as true, but is not required to "accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

         When reviewing a pro se complaint under § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give it the benefit of a liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A "liberal construction" means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the district court should construe the plaintiffs complaint in a way that permits his or her claim to be considered within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). However, even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980). See also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8thCir. 2004) (stating that federal courts are not required to "assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint"). In addition, affording a pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction does not mean that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation must be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).

         The Complaint

          Plaintiff is a pro se litigant who has filed this civil action on behalf of himself and plaintiff Emma Carouthers, who is apparently deceased. Plaintiff is the only individual to sign any of the legal documents before the Court. The complaint names Sullivan Place Apartments and property manager Michael Hutchison as defendants. Plaintiff claims that the case arises under the Fair Housing Act, found at 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

         In his statement of claim, plaintiff states that he and plaintiff Carouthers were defendants' tenants. (Docket No. 1 at 5). He alleges that defendants "knew" that they were "member[s] of a protected class" but "imposed unfavorable or less favorable terms or conditions on returning" their deposit. Plaintiff further claims that such terms or conditions were not imposed on "similarly situated former tenants." This allegedly began in February 2016 and ended in October 2016.

         Plaintiff seeks monetary damages in the amount of $500, which is the amount of his security deposit. (Docket No. 1 at 5-6).


         Plaintiff brings this civil action against defendants Sullivan Place Apartments and property manager Michael Hutchison, alleging he was given "unfavorable or less favorable terms or conditions" with regard to the return of his deposit. For the reasons discussed below, the complaint fails to state a claim. Furthermore, plaintiff has not demonstrated that he is the real party in interest to bring a claim on behalf of plaintiff Carouthers.

         A. Failure to State a Claim

         "The Fair Housing Act prohibits property owners and municipalities from blocking or impeding the provision of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin." Gallagher v. Magner, 619 F.3d 823, 831 (8th Cir. 2010). See also Khan v. City of Minneapolis, 2019 WL 1907212, at *1 (8th Cir. 2019) (stating that the FHA is "a federal law that generally prohibits making unavailable or denying a dwelling because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin"). A tenant subjected to discrimination in violation of the FHA can bring a private cause of action for damages. See Neudecker v. Boisclair Corp. , 351 F.3d 361, 363 (8th Cir. 2003). However, the party asserting a housing discrimination claim under the FHA has the initial burden of proving a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. See Radecki v. Joura, 114 F.3d 115, 116 (8th Cir. 1997).

         Here, plaintiff alleges that he is a member of a protected class, but does not describe the nature of that class. He also states that defendants imposed upon him "unfavorable or less favorable terms or conditions" on the return of his deposit, but does not provide any indication as to what those terms were, or how they were unfavorable. He claims he was treated differently than similarly-situated former tenants, but provides no support for this conclusion. In short, plaintiff has done nothing more than state the elements of a cause of action using conclusory language. This is not sufficient to adequately state a claim. See Wiles v. Capitol Indent. Corp.,280 F.3d 868, 870 (8th Cir. 2002) (stating that "the court is free to ignore legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations"); and ...

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