accordingly necessary at the outset to focus upon the factual allegations in the government's complaint.
The government alleges in P 11 of the complaint that "since approximately April 1991 through the present, defendant Pearl Weisz has coerced, intimidated, threatened and interfered with the Cronins' enjoyment of their dwelling because of the Cronins' religion" (Roman Catholic) by conducting herself in specific ways set forth in a series of subparagraphs to P 11. The complaint there alleges:
During the period April 1991 through November 1992, Weisz complained to the Town of Ramapo Police Department about the Cronins' behavior, and asked that the police surveil the Cronins' home on days when the defendant or her neighbors are not permitted to make telephone calls during the Jewish Sabbath. P 11(a), (b).
Commencing in July 1992, Weisz contacted public officials of the Town of Ramapo to complain about a "basketball pole" located on the Cronins' property. In September 1992, Weisz commenced a series of complaints to the United States Postal Service about the basketball pole. P 11(c), (f).
On July 13, 1992, Weisz wrote a letter to the Office of the Supervisor of the Town of Ramapo, complaining of the behavior of the Cronins' sons and their friends. P 11(d).
On August 17, 1992 Weisz signed a Criminal Court Information charging Sean Cronin with trespass, alleging that on August 10, 1992, Sean Cronin entered Weisz's property to retrieve a basketball. P 11(e).
On or about September 8, 1992 Weisz called Carol Cronin's place of employment at Yeshiva University in New York, spoke to Carol Cronin's supervisor, complained of a "Mrs. C" who lived on Weisz's block in Rockland County, stated that Weisz's two young children were being harassed by "Mrs. C's older children, "and stated further that she [Weisz] "was Orthodox and that she was surprised that Yeshiva University hired non-Jews, especially those of German decent and who are anti-Semitic." P 11(g).
On September 23, 1992, as a result of Weisz's complaints to the town officials, the Town of Ramapo removed the Cronins basketball pole. The government alleges further that the Town "apparently has not taken any such action against other similarly situated residents." P 11(h).
In April 1993, Weisz initiated an action in Small Claims Court against Sean Cronin for breach of a mediation agreement which had arisen out of the August 1992 criminal court information that Weisz had signed against Sean Cronin. P 11(i).
On April 15 and May 23, 1993, Weisz called the police and made further complaints about noise made by the Cronins. P 11(j).
In December 1993, defendant caused to be placed an advertisement in The Jewish Press listing the Cronins' home for sale and stating that it was "open for four days, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, December 24 and 25, 1993, with the result that the Cronins suffered unwelcomed intrusions into their home during the Christmas holiday period." P 11(k).
On February 24, 1994, Weisz called the police and "falsely accused Sean Cronin of hitting the defendant's son with a snowball." P 11(1).
Confronted with these allegations, Weisz moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). The Cronins move under Rule 24(b)(2) to intervene in the action.
Judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is appropriate if, from the pleadings, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The standard for granting or denying the motion is the same as that applicable to a motion to dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). On either motion, the Court must accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Consistent with these familiar principles, the Court should grant the Rule 12(c) motion of defendant at bar only if after viewing the government's allegations in this favorable light, "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Walker v. City of New York, 974 F.2d 293, 298 (2d Cir. 1992), citing and quoting Ricciuti v. New York City Transit Authority, 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1991) (Rule 12(b)(6) motion.)
While as noted the nonmoving party's well-pleaded factual allegations must be taken as true, it is equally well established that "the district court in considering a Rule 12(c) motion need not accept the pleader's "legal conclusions [and] characterizations." Madonna v. United States, 878 F.2d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1989), citing and quoting Tyco Laboratories, Inc. v. Cutler-Hammer, Inc., 490 F. Supp. 1, 4 (S.D.N.Y. 1980) ("under Rule 12(c), a court need not accept as admitted mere legal conclusions or characterizations contained in the nonmovant's pleadings.").
In Madonna the plaintiff alleged that the government summoned him to testify before a grand jury for abusive and improper reasons. Confronted with the government's motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), Madonna claimed "that the court was required to accept as true his allegations that the AUSA used the grand jury as a subterfuge to further an undercover investigation and as a 'contempt trap.'" 878 F.2d at 65. The Second Circuit held that those claims were Madonna's own legal conclusions and characterizations, that the district court need not accept. The district court's proper function is to accept the nonmoving party's well-pleaded factual allegations as true, and, drawing therefrom any reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor, determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In Madonna the Second Circuit, viewing plaintiff's factual allegations and the inferences that might reasonably be drawn from them, concluded that "the complaint still does not show any fraud or misrepresentation by the government." Id. Accordingly the court of appeals affirmed the district court's entry of judgment in the government's favor under Rule 12(c). See also Cagan v. Intervest Midwest Real Estate Corp., 774 F. Supp. 1089, 1098 n.11 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (court was not required to accept the truth of a bare conclusory allegation of lack of consideration).
In the case at bar, the well-pleaded factual allegations concerning the conduct of defendant Weisz appear in the lettered subparagraphs to P 11. The prefatory language in P 11, that through such conduct Weisz "has coerced, intimidated, threatened, and interfered with the Cronins' enjoyment of their dwelling because of the Cronins' religion," which tracks the language of the FHA, is entirely conclusory and represents the government's characterization of the intent underlying Weisz's conduct. That characterization is no more binding upon the Court for Rule 12(c) purposes than were the plaintiff's characterizations of the government's purposes in Madonna v. United States.
The decisive question is whether a proper interpretation of the text of the FHA reaches the particular actions of the defendant alleged in the complaint. See Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc. v. Babin, 18 F.3d 337, 340 (6th Cir. 1994).
The government alleges that Weisz violated Section 818 of the FHA (formerly Section 817), 42 U.S.C. § 3617. That section provides:
It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by section 3603, 3604, 3605, or 3606 of this title.