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Harris v. Dep't of Housing Preservation and Development

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


August 5, 2008

DOREEN HARRIS, PRO SE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT; DIRECTOR OF STATE LEGISLATIVE, JOHN MAZZITELLI; DIRECTOR, ASSET SALES PROGRAM, NICK STAVRIOTIS; LEGAL AFFAIRS, MAIRAN WHITE; AND ARTTIMECHE PEARSON, DIRECTOR, ADMINISTRATION AND COMPLIANCE; THE DEPARTMENT OF CITYWIDE ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES, DIVISION OF REAL ESTATE SERVICES, DIRECTOR OF RELEASE CENTER, JAMES MONTEFINISE; MR. ROBERT; THOMAS PRUZAN - PRUZAN LAW FIRM; NAPCO HOLDINGS LLC; PETER AND NICHOLAS NAKOS; ANGELA MARINOS, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DORA L. IRIZARRY, U.S. District Judge:

Plaintiff Doreen Harris filed this pro se action on May 5, 2008.*fn1 The Court grants plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), and for the reasons discussed below, grants plaintiff 30 days leave to file an amended complaint.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has lived in an apartment building in Brooklyn since 1965. In July of 1983, the City of New York foreclosed on the property for non-payment of real estate taxes. Compl. at 2. Thereafter, plaintiff agreed to pay $230 a month toward paying off the back taxes owed. Id. Plaintiff alleges that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development became the owners from 1983 to 2006, [t]otaling [s]ixty three thousand [f]our hundred eighty dollars toward taxes. The taxes owed should have been paid, but the ownership was not returned as agreed. But secretly sold to NAPCO HOLDINGS LLC. ["NAPCO"] [and] Peter and Nicholas Nakos . . . .

Compl. at 2. Plaintiff contends that she should not be consider[ed] a tenant but rather the owner. The [p]roperty only had back taxes owed; there was an agreement of repayment with a stipulation on the repairs. This agreement was tak[en] out of context to a degree of discrimination where plaintiff is in double jeopardy of losing her home. The amount of years the plaintiff, has pay the amount of [$230] until this present day only confirms some kind of fowl [sic] play that needs Federal Justice. There was an agreement in place and HPD disregarded the agreement and made [p]laintiff a month to month tenant, then sold the property to [NAPCO].

Compl. at 4. Plaintiff further states that NAPCO continued to collect $230 dollars from plaintiff although the premises needed major repairs, such as a new heating system and hot water boiler. Compl. at 3. She states that she "made repairs as much as possible until she became sick and overwhelmed." Id. Plaintiff alleges that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development ("HPD") was aware that she was living without heat and hot water and that the premises had water damage and needed lighting and roof repairs. Compl. at 6. She alleges that HPD [d]iscriminated against [her] due to her race (black) and age. HPD, never conducted the repairs or gave back ownership to plaintiff to refinance the property for repairs to be done. Instead, they violated the Federal Fair Housing Act by secretly selling the property to [NAPCO].

Id. Plaintiff seeks the ownership of her property, "with all [t]axes up to date with a Judgment

[a]mount by a Jury trial/Judge, for Neglect, Emotion Distress, Discrimination and Pain and Suffering." Compl. at 7.

DISCUSSION

A district court shall dismiss an in forma pauperis action when it is satisfied that the action is "(i) 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." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). An action is frivolous when: (1) "the factual contentions are clearly baseless, such as when allegations are the product of delusion or fantasy;" or (2) "the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Livingston v. Adirondack Bev. Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted). Courts are obliged to construe the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff liberally, particularly allegations of civil rights violations. McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). If a liberal reading of the complaint "gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated," courts must grant leave to amend the complaint. See Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000).

The court is sympathetic to plaintiff and her situation; however, the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal courts is limited. The basic statutory grants of subject-matter jurisdiction are contained in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513 (2006). Section 1331 provides federal-question jurisdiction and Section 1332 jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. Id. A plaintiff properly invokes § 1332 jurisdiction when she presents a claim between parties of diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Id. The instant case lacks diversity of citizenship as the defendants are alleged to reside in the same city as the plaintiff.

"A plaintiff properly invokes § 1331 jurisdiction when [she] pleads a colorable claim 'arising under' the Constitution or laws of the United States." Arbaugh, 546 U.S. at 513. A claim alleging federal-question jurisdiction "may be dismissed for want of subject-matter jurisdiction if it is not colorable, i.e., if it is 'immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction' or is 'wholly insubstantial and frivolous.'" Id. at 513 n.10. Courts hold pro se complaints "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); however, pro se plaintiffs must establish subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Rene v. Citibank N.A., 32 F. Supp. 2d 539, 541-42 (E.D.N.Y.1999) (dismissing pro se complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction).

To the extent plaintiff's complaint is premised on foreclosure or landlord-tenant matters, the court is without jurisdiction to grant plaintiff the relief she seeks. It is well settled that the landlord-tenant relationship is fundamentally a matter of state law. See Harris v. Dep't of Hous. Pres. & Dev., No. 07-CV-0067, 2007 WL 602299 at, *2 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2007); see also Dockery v. Cullen & Dykman, 90 F. Supp. 2d 233, 236 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2000) (noting that federal courts lack jurisdiction over claims of foreclosure fraud). The court must dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction unless there is a valid federal-question claim.

Plaintiff's discrimination claim, as alleged, is insufficient. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the federal Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), forbids discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin and, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 ("FHAA"), disabled status. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604. "The provisions of [the FHAA] are to be given broad and liberal construction, in keeping with Congress' intent . . . of replacing racially segregated housing with truly integrated and balanced living patterns." Cabrera v. Jakabovitz, 24 F.3d 372, 388 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal quotations omitted).

A plaintiff seeking recovery under the FHAA can establish discrimination under any of the following theories: (1) disparate treatment; (2) disparate impact; or (3) failure to make a reasonable accommodation. Tsombanidis v. West Haven Fire Dep't, 352 F.3d 565, 573 (2d Cir. 2003). A liberal reading of plaintiff's complaint suggests that she raises a claim of disparate treatment. To show disparate treatment, a plaintiff must demonstrate that "discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor" in defendant's action. See Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. & Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 270 (1977). A complaint alleging discrimination must contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Sweirkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)) (internal quotations omitted). To withstand dismissal, however, a complaint alleging discrimination cannot rest on conclusory allegations of discrimination; rather, it must contain "facts supporting the grounds upon which [the] claim of . . . discrimination rests." Straker v. Metropo. Transit Auth., 333 F. Supp. 2d 91, 102 (E.D.N.Y. 2004).

Plaintiff alleges that "HPD [d]iscriminated against [her] due to her race (black) and age." Compl. at 6. This allegation fails to state a valid FHA claim against each defendant; however, in light of plaintiff's pro se status, the court grants plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to set forth facts sufficient to give notice of the grounds upon which her claim of discrimination is based against HPD and the other named defendants. See Straker, 333 F. Supp. 2d at 102.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, plaintiff is afforded an opportunity to amend her complaint with regard to her FHA claim within thirty (30) days of the date of this order. Should plaintiff submit an amended complaint it must be captioned as an "Amended Complaint" and bear the same docket number as this Order. For the convenience of the pro se Plaintiff, instructions on how to file an Amended Complaint are attached to this Order. No summons shall issue at this time and all further proceedings shall be stayed for 30 days. If plaintiff fails to amend her complaint within 30 days as directed by this Order, the court shall dismiss this complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B).

The court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (a)(3) that any appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for purpose of an appeal. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).

SO ORDERED


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