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REID v. ZACKENBAUM

August 17, 2005.

ENRIQUE REID, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY ZACKENBAUM, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERIC BLOCK, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Enrique Reid ("Reid") brings this pro se action against his former landlord, defendant Jeffrey Zackenbaum ("Zackenbaum"), alleging that Zackenbaum violated his rights by locking Reid out of his apartment and discarding Reid's medicines and other personal property. The Court grants Reid's request to proceed in forma pauperis and reviews the sufficiency of his complaint sua sponte, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Although Reid's complaint does not allege any cognizable federal claim, he is granted leave to amend his complaint within 30 days of the filing of this Memorandum and Order to afford him the opportunity to do so.

  I.

  The Court gleans the following facts and circumstances from a liberal reading of Reid's complaint. See McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) ("when [a] plaintiff proceeds pro se, . . . a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally"). For some time until February 20, 2005, Reid lived in an apartment building owned by Zackenbaum at 200 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn. On February 20, 2005, thinking he would be admitted to a hospital later that day, Reid signed a document which Zackenbaum or his employees said was "just a move-out form." Complaint at ¶ 4. Reid, who alleges that he is legally blind and dying of AIDS, apparently could not or did not read the document. While the exact nature and legal significance of the document is therefore not alleged in the complaint, the injunctive relief requested by Reid suggests that this document was an agreement terminating Reid's lease.

  Shortly after signing this document, Reid learned that he would not be admitted to the hospital after all. He made prompt efforts to rescind the February 20 agreement. On February 21, 2005, Reid verbally informed Zackenbaum that he would not be moving. The next day, Reid sent Zackenbaum a notarized letter to that effect by certified mail. Despite being so notified, Zackenbaum locked Reid out of the apartment. Zackenbaum also discarded medicines and other personal property that Reid had left in the apartment.

  On February 25, 2005, Reid went to "court" to attempt to regain access to the apartment. Reid's complaint does not identify the "court," although the fact that Reid seeks to recover "court cost[s]" incurred in "Landlord Tenant Civil Court Applet [sic] Court and Federal Court," id. at ¶ 5, suggests that Reid pursued this action in the Landlord-Tenant Division of the Housing Part of the Civil Court of the City of New York and, perhaps, appealed to the Supreme Court, Appellate Term. The complaint also does not indicate the outcome of these legal proceedings. The complaint implies that the court, referring to papers filed by Zackenbaum in an earlier action, errantly believed that Reid owed $2,000 in rent and denied him relief. Id. at ¶ 4. However, the ad damnum clause of the complaint, which requests that this Court "enforce a judgment," id. at ¶ 5, suggests that Reid obtained a judgment in his favor.

  On March 17, 2005, Reid commenced this action. Although the caption of the complaint names only Zackenbaum as a defendant, allegations in the body of the complaint provide addresses for both Zackenbaum and his attorney, Benjamin Epstein. Id. at ¶ 2. The complaint alleges that "Defendant and Attorney for Defendant Violated the Federal American Disability Act . . . and may also have violated the civil law of Enrique Reid 42 USC 1331." Id. at ¶ 3. Reid seeks monetary damages to compensate for the "mental anguish" caused by the lockout and the "pain [and] suffering" resulting from exacerbation of Reid's physical ailments. Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. Reid also seeks "to enforce a judgment . . . that [he] retain . . . apartment 1B or other vacant apartment at 200 Irving Avenue . . . or that [he] be grant[ed] financial restitution . . . sufficient for a new apartment and medicines as well as personal property." Id. at ¶ 5. Finally, Reid seeks injunctive relief: an order requiring Zackenbaum (1) to read aloud to a tenant the provisions of any document he asks the tenant to sign, and (2) to grant a tenant five days to move his or her property from his or her apartment after signing "an agreement." Id. II.

  A. Standard of Review

  Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), a district court must dismiss a case if the court determines that the action "(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." An action is frivolous as a matter of law when, inter alia, it is based on an "indisputably meritless legal theory" — that is, when it "lacks an arguable basis in law . . ., or [when] a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the complaint." Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998). "[A] court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)). However, if a liberal reading of the complaint "gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated," the Court must grant leave to amend the complaint. Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000); Gomez v. USAA Fed. Sav. Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 795 (2d Cir. 1999). See also Frazier v. Coughlin, 850 F.2d 129, 130 (2d Cir. 1988) ("A pro se plaintiff who brings a civil rights action should be `fairly freely' afforded an opportunity to amend his complaint") (citing Satchell v. Dilworth, 745 F.2d 781, 785 (2d Cir. 1984)).

  B. Claims Arguably Indicated

  Reid's complaint implies that Reid is seeking to establish federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which grants district courts jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Reid attempts to identify specific federal statutes, alleging that Zackenbaum and his attorney violated "the Federal American Disability Act" and may have violated "the civil law of Enrique Reid 42 USC 1331." Complaint at ¶ 3. The Court will construe Reid's complaint as suggesting violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (the "FHAA"), the public accommodations and public services provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (the "ADA"), section 504 of the Rehabilitation Services Administration Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (the "Rehabilitation Act"), and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983").

  1. FHAA Claims

  The FHAA provides, in relevant part, that it is unlawful to "discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of . . . that buyer or renter." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1). The FHAA applies to the sale and rental of any property "designed or intended for occupancy as a residence by one or more families." 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b). A plaintiff seeking recovery under the FHAA can establish discrimination under three theories: (1) disparate treatment; (2) disparate impact; (3) failure to make a reasonable accommodation. See Tsombanidis v. West Haven Fire Dept., 352 F.3d 565, 573 (2d Cir. 2003). Reid fails to state a claim under the disparate impact or reasonable accommodation theories; however, a liberal reading of his complaint suggests that he may be able to state a claim of disparate treatment.

  To establish disparate impact, the plaintiff must show "(1) the occurrence of certain outwardly neutral practices, and (2) a significantly adverse or disproportionate impact on persons of a particular type produced by the defendant's facially neutral acts or practices." Tsombanidis, 352 F.3d at 575. The basis for a successful disparate impact claim involves a comparison between those groups who are adversely affected by a practice because of their disability, and those unaffected by it. See id. Construing Reid's complaint liberally, the Court will assume that the facially neutral act alleged by Reid is Zackenbaum's practice of not reading documents to tenants. Reid's complaint does not allege, nor is there any indication in the complaint, that there are other ...


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