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Elabanjo v. Excel Property Management, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

May 2, 2019



          JAMES C. DEVER, III, United States District Judge

         On October 4, 2018, Samantha Elabanjo ("Elabanjo"), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint against Excel Property Management, Inc. ("Excel"), Calvary Trace Apartments ("Calvary Trace"), Blake Brazier ("Brazier"), Chris Hanson, Kimberly M. Lilly Dupree ("Dupree"), Linda Poole ("Poole"), and Ann Hanson (collectively "defendants") [D.E. 8]. On December 5, 2018, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim [D.E. 29] and filed a memorandum in support [D.E. 30]. On December 6, 2018, the court notified Elabanjo about the motion, the response deadline, and the consequences of failing to do so [D.E. 31]. See Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309.310 (4th Cir. 1975) (per curiam). OnJanuary2, 2019, Elabanjo responded in opposition [D.E. 32] and voluntarily dismissed her retaliatory eviction claim [D.E. 33]. On January 15, 2019, defendants replied [D.E. 34]. As explained below, the court grants defendants' motion to dismiss.


         On November 13, 2015, Elabanjo leased an apartment at Calvary Trace in Raleigh, North Carolina. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ 1; [D.E. 8-3] 1. Elabanjo alleges that, because she suffers from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), bipolar disorder, and paranoia, she received assistance in paying for the apartment through the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency's Key Program. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ 1. On October 31, 2016, Elabanjo's lease ended, and Elabanjo leased the apartment month-to-month. See id.; [D.E. 8-3] 1.

         In June 2016, Elabanjo, whose apartment was on the second floor, began having difficulties with her upstairs neighbor. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶¶ 1-3. In particular, Elabanjo disliked her upstairs neighbor's children bouncing a ball in the apartment, which Elabanjo said"ma[de] excessive noise." Id. ¶ 1. Elabanjo complained to Brazier, who told Elabanjo to contact Calvary Trace's security contractor On Point Security or the Raleigh Police Department. See Id. ¶ 2. On June 29, 2016, and June 30, 2016, Elabanjo contacted On Point Security. See Id. ¶¶ 1, 3. Elabanjo alleges that security officers visited her apartment, told her that they had audio and video of the incident and had prepared an incident report, and warned her neighbor about the noise. See Id. Elabanjo continued to have problems with her upstairs neighbor. See Id. ¶ 4. Elabanjo contacted Brazier concerning the incident report in July and August 2016, but Brazier told Elabanjo that she would not issue a violation to Elabanjo's neighbor. See id ¶¶ 4-5; cf [D.E. 8-9].

         Elabanjo told Brazier that Brazier's refusal to issue a violation constituted discrimination. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ S. Elabanjo complained in person at Excel to Poole and Ann Hanson about her neighbor's noise and Brazier's response to the situation. See Id. ¶¶ 5-6. Elabanjo alleges that Ann Hanson and Poole said that "they would take care of both situations." Id. ¶ 6. After the meeting, Elabanjo alleges that Brazier confronted her in the Calvary Trace office and said that she treats everyone fairly. See Id. ¶ 7. Excel offered to move Elabanjo to an apartment on the third floor, but Elabanjo declined because physical disabilities prevented her from walking to the third floor. Id.; see Id. ¶ 8. In October 2016, Elabanjo's neighbor moved to a new unit in Calvary Trace, and the neighbor's aunts and boyfriend allegedly threatened Elabanjo. See Id. ¶ 8.

         On October 14, 2016, Elabanjo alleges that, while sitting at a smoking booth, another Calvary Trace resident asked Elabanjo if she had heard about the "new loitering policy." Id. ¶ 9. Elabanjo went to the office to discuss the new policy with Brazier. See Id. Elabanjo alleges that Brazier told Elabanjo that "it was a lease violation to be outside without an apparent purpose because it looks 'suspicious'" and that residents "needed a reason to be out in the parking lot" Id. ¶ 10. Elabanjo also alleges that Brazier told her it was "illegal" to walk around and get fresh air. See id.; [D.E. 8-2]. Elabanjo taped the conversation. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ 9; [D.E. 8-2].

         After this conversation, Elabanjo became too paranoid to leave her apartment See Id. ¶ 11. Elabanjo feared having to explain to security officers why she was outside, and she became distressed when she saw other residents walking outside. See Id. Elabanjo alleges that she became depressed, angry, humiliated, and suffered from PTSD. See Id. Elabanjo and her sister met with Poole, and Poole assured Elabanjo that she had misunderstood Brazier's explanation of the loitering policy. See Id. ¶ 12. Elabanjo nevertheless "continued not to come outside" and took steps to minimize the time that she spent outside. Id. ¶ 13.

         On February 27, 2017, Excel notified Elabanjo that it would not renew her lease for the next month and that Elabanjo needed to vacate the apartment by March 31, 2017. See Id. ¶ 14; [D.E. 8-10]. Elabanjo went to Excel and met with Dupree, who told Elabanjo that she did not know why Excel would not renew Elabanjo's lease. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ 15. Elabanjo requested information concerning a reasonable accommodation letter from Dupree. See Id. ¶ 16. Elabanjo then alleges that she met with Susan Chifton ("Chifton"), a clinical operations physician at "Monarch[, ]" where Elabanjo received mental health treatment. Id. Chifton requested a reasonable accommodation on Elabanjo's behalf, and Elabanjo submitted the request to Dupree. See Id. On March 9, 2017, Excel denied Elabanjo's request, citing Elabanjo's "intimidating behavior." Id. ¶ 17; see id ¶ 18; [D.E. 8-4]; [D.E. 8-7]. Elabanjo attempted to appeal the decision, and on March 14, 2017, Elabanjo received a letter denying her request. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ 19; [D.E. 8-8].

         Elabanjo did not vacate her apartment, and Excel began the eviction process. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶ 19; [D.E. 8-5]. Elabanjo appeared before a magistrate in "small claims court," and the magistrate ruled that Excel did not have good cause to evict Elabanjo. See Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Excel appealed. In October 2017, Elabanjo prevailed in a non-jury trial in Wake County Civil District Court, and the court issued an order of final judgment and made findings of fact and conclusions of law. See id ¶¶ 25-30; [D.E. 8-11].

         Elabanjo continued to reside at Calvary Trace for approximately eight months. On June 4 2018, Elabanjo notified Excel that she was voluntarily vacating her apartment. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶¶ 31-32; [D.E. 8-6]. Elabanjo alleges that she decided to vacate because Brazier still worked at Calvary Trace, which allegedly caused Elabanjo emotional distress. See Compl. [D.E. 8] ¶¶ 31-32. On July 5, 2018, Elabanjo vacated her apartment. See [D.E. 8-6].

         On July 18, 2018, Elabanjo filed a complaint pro se in this court and sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis [D.E. 1]. On October 4, 2018, the court allowed Elabanjo's complaint to proceed in part [D.E. 7]. Five claims survived frivolity review: (1) discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, (2) breach of contract against Calvary Trace, (3) breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment against Calvary Trace, (4) gross negligence, and (5) retaliatory eviction against Calvary Trace [D.E. 7].[1] Elabanjo seeks $10 million, punitive damages, and injunctive relief including prohibiting Calvary Trace from receiving tax credits for four years, "requiring a mandatory training class on fair housing laws, and requiring that Calvary Trace change the phrasing in all of its future leases." [D.E. 30] 4; see Compl. [D.E. 8] 20.


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the complaint's legal and factual sufficiency. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal.556 U.S. 662, 677-80 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 554-63 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals. 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), affd, 566 U.S. 30 (2012); Nemet Chevrolet Ltd. v. Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v. Johanson,521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a pleading "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation omitted); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302. In considering the motion, the court must construe the facts and reasonable inferences "in the light most favorable to the [nonmoving party]." Massey v. Ojanjit, 759 F.3d 343, 352 (4th Cir. 2014); see Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville.708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013), abrogated on other grounds by Reed v. Town of Gilbert,135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015). A court need not accept as true a complaint's legal conclusions, "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Giarratano. ...

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