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Seabrook v. City of New York

September 14, 2007

VICKI SEABROOK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, NYC HOUSING PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPMENT FUND CO., JPMORGAN CHASE BANK, N.A., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, fourteen homeowners, bring suit alleging a series of constitutional violations and state law torts against various public and private defendants arising out of the purchase of government-subsidized homes located in central Harlem in Manhattan. Defendants City of New York ("the City"), NYC Partnership Housing Development Fund Company ("the Partnership"), and JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. ("Chase") separately move to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint under Rule 9(b), 12(b)(6), and 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions are GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The facts, as stated in plaintiffs' Complaint, are as follows. In late 1999, low and middle income families were solicited by the Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the availability of affordable housing and home ownership amount lower income residents, and Landmark Project IV, Inc. ("Landmark"), a development company, to participate in the Central Harlem Partnership. The Central Harlem Partnership is comprised of forty-one townhouses consisting of either two or three family apartments located between Fifth and Eighth Avenue and 121st and 129th Street. The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development ("HPD") and the Partnership had selected Landmark to construct homes as part of the Central Harlem Partnership. (Compl. ¶ 26.) The homes were constructed between 2000 and 2003. (Compl. ¶¶ 28--29.) Beginning in 2000, plaintiffs entered into purchase agreements with Landmark and the Partnership and made downpayments on new homes with the understanding that they would be ready by 2001.*fn1 (Compl. ¶¶ 30--31.) Plaintiffs were then "steered to Chase for financing and forced to use Landmark's own engineers and attorneys." (Compl. ¶ 34.) Plaintiffs state that requests for independent attorneys and engineers were denied by the City and Landmark, but it is unclear whether they were seeking to have such professionals provided without charge, or merely for permission to utilize them at their own expense.

Upon completion of the apartments, plaintiffs allege that the City conducted inadequate inspections of the homes and wrongfully issued Certificates of Occupancy ("C of O's"). (Compl. ¶ 72.) After the C of O's issued, in 2003, each plaintiff was "scurried through the inspection and rushed off to a closing where [he or she was] faced with a number of non-negotible terms and unexpected last minute fees." (Compl. ¶ 35.) However, the terms of the closing were set forth in the purchase agreements, which had been signed by plaintiffs years earlier. Upon entering the premises, plaintiffs discovered numerous defects requiring substantial outlays of money for repair. (See Compl. ¶¶ 40-- 53.) Defects included, among other things, deteriorating roofs and masonry, improper plumbing, defective heating, and electrical problems. Landmark, the builder who constructed and sold the townhouses, had warranted against many such defects. Despite numerous complaints, however, Landmark did little to nothing and eventually its sole proprietor, Desmond Emanuel, filed for bankruptcy, with Landmark and its parent company and a defendant in this action, Santa Fe Construction, as co-debtors.*fn2 Plaintiffs next sought help from the Partnership, which organized a site visit by a contractor, but later informed plaintiffs that it could not secure a contractor for the necessary repairs. (Compl. ¶ 65.) They made a monetary offer, but it was "only a fraction" of what was necessary. (Compl. ¶¶ 65--66.) Plaintiffs were forced to spend large sums of money to repair their new homes.

Plaintiffs further allege that the City "repeatedly refused to inspect" their buildings and notice the many defects, and otherwise to enforce municipal housing regulations. (Compl. ¶¶ 74, 76.) Plaintiffs, "unlike homeowners in wealthier, predominately White neighborhoods, have no agency . . . for securing the protections of the housing laws." (Compl. ¶ 82.) Plaintiffs allege that Landmark, Chase, the City, and the Partnership "expressly and impliedly represented and warranted" that the homes were fit for human habitation and "fraudulently induc[ed] them into purchasing and mortgaging defective Townhouses." (Compl. ¶¶ 67, 68.)

Based on these events, plaintiffs state twelve causes of action against various defendants. The first, second, and ninth causes of action allege violations of the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (2006). Plaintiffs stipulated to dismiss these federal claims against defendants Chase and the Partnership, but maintain them against the City. The remaining causes of action allege state law claims, sounding in fraud, breach of contract, state and city discrimination law, and state business law.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Bolt Elec., Inc. v. City of New York, 53 F.3d 465, 469 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 8(a), the complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see also Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."). The complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations," yet it "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formalistic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964--65 (2007). Rather, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965; see also Iqbal v. Hasty, No. 05-5768, 490 F.3d 143, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 13911, at *35 (2d Cir. June 14, 2007) (plaintiff must "amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible.").

The Court is generally limited to "the factual allegations in [the] complaint, documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or documents either in plaintiff['s] possession or of which plaintiff[] had knowledge and relied in bringing suit." Brass v. American Film Technologies, Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993). Because plaintiffs rely on the purchase agreements in bringing suit, the Court may consider them on this motion.

The standard for reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) is analogous to the standard under Rule 12(b)(6). See Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001). The Court must determine whether "the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Burns Int'l Sec. Servs. v. International Union, 47 F.3d 14, 16 (2d Cir. 1995). As with a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995).

DISCUSSION

I. Constitutional Claims

The first and second causes of action allege various constitutional injuries against the City. These include deprivation of plaintiffs' "right to safe and suitable housing," deprivation of the "rights, privileges and immunities secured" by the Constitution, violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. The Court interprets these claims as being brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn3 for the violation of constitutional rights by state actors. Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights," but "merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) (citations and internal ...


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