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L.C. v. LeFrak Organization, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 13, 2013

L.C. and FAIR HOUSING JUSTICE CENTER, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
LEFRAK ORGANIZATION, INC. and ESTATES N.Y. REAL ESTATE SERVICES LLC. d/b/a Kings & Queens Leasing and LeFrak city Leasing, Defendants

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For the Plaintiffs: Armen Hagop Merjian, Housing Works, Inc., New York, NY; Diane Lee Houk, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP, New York, NY.

For the Defendants: Randy M. Mastro, Gabriel Herrmann, and Jennifer H. Rearden, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, New York, NY.

OPINION

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OPINION AND ORDER

DENISE COTE, United States District Judge.

The two plaintiffs in this action are L.C., an indigent woman living with HIV/AIDS, and the Fair Housing Justice Center, Inc. (" FHJC" ). They bring claims under the Fair Housing Act (" FHA" ) and the New York City Human Rights Law (" HRL" ), alleging that defendants LeFrak Organization, Inc. and Estates N.Y. Real Estate Services LLC (collectively " LeFrak" ) have discriminated against L.C. and persons living with symptomatic HIV or AIDS. LeFrak has filed a motion to dismiss. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The complaint includes the following allegations. New York City (" City" ) created the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (" HASA" ) in 1985 as a subdivision of the City's Human Resources Administration to

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address the special needs of the indigent population of the City with clinical or symptomatic HIV or AIDS. HASA provides the owners of City apartments with a " direct-vendor check" for the first month's rent and a voucher for a security deposit equal to one-month's rent after a HASA client has located a privately owned apartment within the City and after HASA has approved the apartment. HASA also provides direct-vendor checks for a full month's rent in each of the succeeding months that the HASA client occupies the apartment. HASA does not provide a letter to landlords, however, assuring them that HASA will pay a sum certain in housing subsidies for its clients.

In September 2011, HASA advised L.C. that it would provide her with a full housing subsidy in the range of approximately $1,100 per month for a suitable apartment, as well as a security deposit, broker's fee, and the first month's rent. L.C. visited the website for LeFrak City, saw that there were apartments available to rent there for about $1,100 per month, and called the rental office listed on the website. L.C. was directed to an office on Queens Boulevard that deals with applicants who will be using government benefit programs to pay their rent. At that office, Lefrak required L.C. to provide a letter from HASA that would confirm that HASA would pay a sum certain for the rent. L.C. explained that HASA does not provide such letters but that HASA had informed her that the agency would pay about $1,100 per month for an apartment. The Lefrak employee stated that she needed the HASA letter to process L.C.'s application.

L.C. thereafter met with her HASA case manager, who explained that HASA does not provide such confirmation letters. The HASA supervisor agreed that HASA does not do so. The HASA case manager called Lefrak and explained this policy, confirming what L.C. had told Lefrak.

L.C. visited Housing Works to explain what had happened. When the Housing Works case manager called Lefrak, the Lefrak employee repeated that the HASA letter had to be submitted before Lefrak would process L.C.'s application. Lefrak admitted that it had apartments available for around $1,100 per month.

In May 2012, FHJC sent testers to Lefrak. At that time, it was listing three apartments for rent at around $1,100 per month at LeFrak City. One tester explained that she was employed and earned $46,000 a year and wanted to rent a studio or one-bedroom apartment for $1,100 per month at LeFrak City. In the LeFrak City rental office, she was shown a floor plan and given an application. She was then taken to and shown a studio apartment. The tester did not have any documentation with her and was told that was not a problem.

During this same month other testers, who explained that they had a brother living with AIDS who had a HASA housing subsidy, were directed by Lefrak to another office for renters using government program subsidies. These testers were not shown any apartments. They were told they had to bring all of the necessary paperwork, fill out an application, and wait for Lefrack to do a criminal and credit background check. They were also told that they would need a letter from HASA confirming how much rent HASA would pay. Lefrak insisted on such a confirmation letter even after the testers informed the employee that HASA does not want to put that confirmation in writing. The testers were told that, after the aforementioned process was completed, they would be put on a waiting list for an apartment. The office in which these conversations occurred had a glass window

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separating the tester from the Lefrak employee; the window had a slot at the bottom.

On April 25, 2013, L.C. and FHJC filed this action, seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and compensatory damages from the defendants. On June 20, the defendants moved to dismiss, and plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended complaint on July 11, which is the operative complaint for purposes of this Opinion (" Amended Complaint" ). On August 20, the defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs filed their opposition on September 17, and defendants their reply on October 1. The motion was fully submitted as of October 1.

DISCUSSION

This Court has a jurisdictional obligation to address whether each plaintiff has Article III standing to bring this action. The Article III standing inquiry " focuses on whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring [the] suit." Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818, 117 S.Ct. 2312, 138 L.Ed.2d 849 (1997) (citation omitted). To establish constitutional standing,

[t]he plaintiff must have suffered an " injury in fact" -- an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) " actual or imminent," not " conjectural" or " hypothetical." Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of -- the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third it must be likely, as opposed to merely " speculative" that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) (citation omitted). There can be no dispute that plaintiff L.C., an individual who was directly harmed by the Lefrak policies being challenged in this action, meets the requirements for constitutional standing.

Plaintiff FHJC, however, is an organization. The Second Circuit has explained the two ways in which an organization can meet the ...


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