United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
TERRY L. BROWN, Plaintiff,
CHARLOTTE RENTALS LLC and CEDRIC McCORKLE, Defendants.
FRANK D. WHITNEY, Chief District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the court on Defendants' Cedric McCorkle and Charlotte Rentals LLC Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 8) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), insufficient process pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(4), insufficient service of process pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5), and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.
Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, is a North Carolina resident who brought this action to recover damages resulting from alleged housing discrimination against him by Defendants on account of his disability. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff suffers from incomplete paraplegia and is confined to a wheelchair. (Doc. No. 3). Defendant Cedric McCorkle is a lending agent employed by Charlotte Rentals from whom Plaintiff is renting his residence. (Doc. No. 1).
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Defendants' failure to provide a ramp for wheelchair access to his residence is actionable discrimination. (Doc. No. 1). Although Plaintiff's complaint does not suggest a specific legal theory that entitles him to relief, several of the pleadings in the record refer to the Fair Housing Act ("Title VIII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). (Doc. No. 8). Plaintiff filed a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") which was accepted on December 4, 2014 and, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(f), was referred to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee for investigation. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff received a letter from HUD, dated December 4, 2014, informing him that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee would be responsible for resolving his complaint and that he may file a civil lawsuit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3613. (Doc. No. 1).
Charlotte Rentals has previously filed two claims against Plaintiff in Mecklenburg County small claims court seeking rent payments. (Doc. No. 8). According to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in the instant case, Plaintiff responded to both previous claims with a counterclaim regarding the same allegation as the instant case. (Doc. No. 8, 8-4). In the first action, the parties voluntarily dismissed without prejudice on June 18, 2014. (Doc. No. 8). In the second action, 14CVM26190, Plaintiff again voluntarily dismissed his counterclaim and accepted an out-of-court settlement. (Doc. No. 8, 8-4). The record is unclear as to the circumstances of that settlement and the legal implications of such cannot be discerned at this time. On January 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed this suit arguing that Defendants' failure to provide a wheelchair ramp was discriminatory on account of his disability. (Doc. No. 1). Defendants argue that they are not obligated to install a ramp for wheelchair access and filed a motion to dismiss on those grounds. (Doc. No. 8).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When considering a motion to dismiss involving pro se parties, the court construes the pleadings liberally to ensure that valid claims do not fail merely for lack of legal specificity. See Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978); see generally Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). This liberal construction, however, need not extend to outright advocacy for the pro se plaintiff. See Gordon, 574 F.2d at 1151.
Because the specific legal theories upon which Plaintiff is basing his complaint are not clear from the pleadings, the court will, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and in observance of his pro se status, liberally construe the complaint and address the issues that this factual scenario give it reason to consider. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (stating that pro se pleadings are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers....").
A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for dismissal where the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of a lawsuit. Original subject matter jurisdiction exists in federal district court when, among other specific scenarios expressed in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, the complaint raises a federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or the requirements for diversity jurisdiction are met under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue without which the Court lacks the competency or ability to do anything other than dismiss the case. The lack of such jurisdiction may be raised at any time by a litigant or the court sua sponte . Mansfield, C. & L. M. RY. CO. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 382 (1884).
In a disability discrimination case, federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over Title VIII claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A) which states, in pertinent part, that "[a]n aggrieved person may commence a civil action in an appropriate United States district court... not later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice...." An "aggrieved person" includes any person who "claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice...." 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i)(1). Further, although Title 42 of the U.S. Code lays out an administrative enforcement scheme that a claimant may pursue for relief, it is not necessary that the claimant exhaust or even pursue such administrative remedies prior to filing a civil action in federal district court. 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(2).
Defendants argue that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because this case is prematurely before this Court due to the administrative enforcement scheme that is available to aggrieved persons under the Fair Housing Act. (Doc. No. 8). They contend that Superior Court in Mecklenburg County is the appropriate forum for this action according to the letter from the Community Relations Committee dated February 11, 2015. (Doc. No. 8-1). Although Superior Court is indeed a possible forum for this action, it is not the only proper forum for adjudication. See 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A). Therefore, Defendants' argument that Superior Court is the only proper forum for this claim is without merit. Any other conclusion would be clearly inconsistent with the plain and expressed language of the above cited sections of Title VIII. As stated above, although a claimant may seek these administrative remedies under Title VIII, he is not required to pursue such or to exhaust the administrative remedies before seeking redress in the federal district courts. 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(2). Further, the letter to Plaintiff from HUD, dated December 4, 2014, to which Defendants make no reference, expressly states that ...