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City of Geneva v. Serenity Manor Apartments

August 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


Plaintiff the City of Geneva (the "City"), on behalf of Brenda Bostic ("Bostic), brings this action against defendants Serenity Manor Apartments, its co-owners Xiu Feng Li, Yu Hui Peng, and its general manager Johnny Peng (collectively "Serenity Manor"), alleging that Serenity Manor engaged in discriminatory housing practices against Bostic, a disabled woman, in violation of federal and local law.

On May 3, 2006, Bostic filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §3610(a), and with the Geneva Human Rights Commission ("GHRC") pursuant to §158-17(A) of the Geneva Fair Housing Law ("Local Law"), alleging discrimination in housing on the basis of disability.*fn1 GHRC investigated the complaint, unsuccessfully attempted to mediate between the parties, and prepared a final investigative report, finding that there was reasonable cause to believe that discriminatory housing practices had occurred.

On May 31, 2007, GHRC issued its Determination of Reasonable Cause and Charge of Discrimination pursuant to the Local Law, charging the defendants with discriminatory housing practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq., and Local Law §158 et seq. On June 20, 2007, the individual defendants elected to have the Charge resolved in a civil action, pursuant to Local Law §158-22. GHRC thereafter authorized the City to commence a civil action pursuant to the Local Law, and on July 20, 2007, the City timely commenced the instant action on Bostic's behalf to pursue the GHRC's charges against Serenity Manor.

Bostic now moves to intervene as a party plaintiff (Dkt. #3), and Serenity Manor moves to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #5) for lack of personal jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, both motions are granted.


I. Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant." Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994), citing Ad-Hoc Comm. of Baruch Black & Hispanic Alumni Ass'n v. Bernard M. Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d Cir. 1987). The Court notes that the traditional Rule 12(b)(6) test, which permitted dismissal only where "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief," has been rejected by the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ____ U.S. ____, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), which conclusively retired the "no set of facts" test and held that "a plaintiff's obligation . . . requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65 (citations omitted). See e.g., Transhorn, Ltd. v. United Technologies Corp., 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 21086 at *6 n. 3 (2d Cir. 2007) (concluding that Bell Atlantic Corp.'s holding, which addressed an antitrust claim, is not limited to that context and "affects pleading standards somewhat more broadly"); Ashcroft v. Dept. of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49079 (W.D.N.Y. 2007) (discussing and applying the Bell Atlantic Corp. standard).

II. Serenity Manor's Motion to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the Court's jurisdiction over the defendants. See Anchor v. Novartis Grimsby, Ltd., 2008 U.S App. LEXIS 13517 at *2 (2d Cir. 2008). Such a showing may be made "based on legally sufficient allegations of jurisdiction," and "the pleadings and affidavits [will be construed] in plaintiff's favor at this early stage." Id., quoting Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 566 (2d Cir. 1996) and PDK Labs, Inc. v. Friedlander, 103 F.3d 1105, 1108 (2d Cir. 1997).

The defendant primarily argues that plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege or demonstrate that the GHRC has jurisdiction to investigate or pursue claims against non-residents of the City. It is undisputed that Serenity Manor Apartments, where each of the individual defendants resides, is located outside of the City of Geneva, although it is within the Town of Geneva. The focus of the Court's inquiry is, therefore, whether there exists any statutory conferment of jurisdiction on the GHRC, a City of Geneva agency, over non-residents of the City which would support the GHRC's claim to jurisdiction over the defendants.

Initially, HUD referrals do not, in and of themselves, comprise a grant of personal jurisdiction over a putative defendant: rather, the regulations provide that referrals are to be granted to an HRC only for matters within the HRC's jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §3610(f)(1).

The HRC's jurisdiction, in turn, is defined and limited by the relevant municipality, pursuant to state statute. Here, the enabling statute is contained in Section 239 et seq. of New York's General Municipal Law. N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law §239 et seq.

The Local Law, by which the City purports to delegate various powers to the GHRC pursuant to N.Y. Gen. Mun. L. §239 et seq., does not define the GHRC's area of jurisdiction, either with respect to the residence of potential claimants, or the residence or location of persons and entities complained against. In fact, the Local Law's sole reference to geographical boundaries is its definition of the term "housing accommodation," which refers to "any dwelling . . . in the City . . . used as a residential structure." Local Law §158-3(N). Other terms relevant to the Local Law's ...

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