United States District Court, S.D. New York
WILLIAM B. CORLEY, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH SPITZER and BRIAN LOFTMAN, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff William B. Corley, proceeding pro se, brings this action alleging illegal behavior by a variety of actors in connection with his rental of an apartment in The Aspen - a building owned by 100 Street Tri Venture LLC ("Tri Venture"), managed by Allstate Realty Associates ("Allstate"), and governed by a "Regulatory Agreement" between Tri Venture and the New York Housing Development Corporation ("HDC"). Now before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 72.) On May 2, 2014, the honorable Kevin Nathaniel Fox, Magistrate Judge, issued a "Report and Recommendation" ("Report" or "Rep.") recommending that: (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss be denied as (a) untimely and (b) moot; and (2) Defendants' default be entered, pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failing to answer or defend against the operative pleading in a timely fashion. (Doc. No. 77 at 11.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court respectfully disagrees with Magistrate Judge Fox's recommendations and, instead, grants the motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff filed the initial Complaint in this action on December 12, 2011. (Doc. No. 1.) The Complaint generally concerned Plaintiff's relationship with his landlord and his efforts to obtain a reduced-rent apartment. On April 23, 2012, the Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Fox for general pretrial matters, as well as a report and recommendation concerning any dispositive motions filed by the parties. (Doc. No. 10.) On April 27, 2012, the HDC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 13.) After the motion was fully briefed, on January 24, 2013, Magistrate Judge Fox issued a report, recommending that the claims against the HDC Defendants be dismissed, but that Plaintiff be permitted to make a formal motion for leave to amend the Complaint. (Doc. No. 42.) In an Order dated March 28, 2013, the Court adopted Magistrate Judge Fox's report in its entirety. (Doc. No. 48.) Following the resolution of logistical filing issues, Plaintiff eventually filed his motion, with a proposed Amended Complaint ("AC") attached, on May 24, 2013. (Doc. No. 56.) On June 5, 2013, the HDC Defendants filed their opposition to Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint; however, Defendants did not file any opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. No. 58.)
On August 20, 2013, Magistrate Judge Fox issued his report concerning Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend his complaint, recommending that the Court dismiss three of the causes of action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and permit Plaintiff to file an amended pleading as to the other causes of action. (Doc. No. 59.) Following receipt of the HDC Defendants' objections and Plaintiffs' response to those objections, the Court denied, in part, and granted, in part, Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend the complaint: (a) leaving only "causes of action against... Defendants in the proposed Amended Complaint, to which there has been no opposition"; (b) ordering that the "Plaintiffs proposed Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 56) shall be treated as the operative pleading in this action"; and (c) directing Defendants "to file an answer on or before February 28, 2014." (February 10 Order.)
On February 27, 2014, Defendants requested an extension of "time to answer or move against the Amended Complaint" (Doc. No. 67), which the Court denied by ordering the parties to "direct such scheduling matters" to Magistrate Judge Fox (Doc. No. 68). On February 28, 2014, Magistrate Judge Fox granted Defendants' request for an extension and directed Defendants to "answer or move with respect to the amended complaint on or before March 7, 2014." (Doc. No. 70.) On March 7, 2014, Defendants improperly filed their motion to dismiss the amended complaint, and the ECF system generated the following message: "FILING ERROR - DEFICIENT DOCKET ENTRY." (Doc. No. 71.) On March 10, 2014, ECF generated a "Note to Attorney Dean Dreiblatt" to refile the motion to dismiss due to the error. ( Id. ) Defendants then filed the instant motion to dismiss on March 11, 2014. (Doc. No. 72.)
On May 2, 2014, Magistrate Judge Fox issued his Report and Recommendation concerning Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 77.) On May 30, 2014, Defendants filed their objections ("Obj.") to the Report, arguing that Magistrate Judge Fox erred in recommending denial of the motion to dismiss and an entry of default against Defendants. (Doc. No. 80.) Plaintiff responded to those objections, in essence, urging the Court to adopt Magistrate Judge Fox's recommendations to deny the instant motion and enter Defendants' default. (Doc. Nos. 81, 82, 84.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by a magistrate judge. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) ("The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to. The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions."); Grassia v. Scully, 892 F.2d 16, 19 (2d Cir. 1989). A court may accept those portions of a magistrate judge's report to which no specific, written objection is made, as long as the factual and legal bases supporting the findings are not clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See Adee Motor Cars, LLC v. Amato, 388 F.Supp.2d 250, 253 (S.D.N.Y. 2005); Greene v. WCI Holdings Corp., 956 F.Supp. 509, 513 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) and Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985)). A magistrate judge's decision is "clearly erroneous" only if the district court is "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).
To the extent that a party raises specific objections to a magistrate judge's findings, the Court must undertake de novo review of such objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). However, where a party's objections to a report and recommendation are "conclusory or general, " or "simply reiterate [the party's] original arguments, " the report should be reviewed only for clear error. Walker v. Vaughan, 216 F.Supp.2d 290, 292 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (quoting Barratt v. Joie, No. 96-cv-0324 (LTS) (THK), 2002 WL 335014, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2002)); accord Cartagena v. Connelly, No. 06-cv-2047 (LTS) (GWG), 2008 WL 2169659, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 2008).
As noted above, Magistrate Judge Fox recommends denial of the instant motion, as well as the entry of Defendants' default, based upon Defendants' (1) failure to successfully file the motion on March 7, 2014 (Rep. at 6-8), and (2) deficient papers filed in support of the motion (Rep. at 8-11). In light of Defendants' objections to the Report, the Court must undertake de novo review of those recommendations. As explained below, the Court respectfully disagrees with Magistrate Judge Fox's recommendations and, instead, resolves Defendants' motion to dismiss on the merits.
A. The Report's Recommendations
Magistrate Judge Fox recommended denial of the motion to dismiss and the entry of a default based on a number of procedural missteps by Defendants. Specifically, the Report recommended that the Court: (1) deny Defendants' motion to dismiss as (a) untimely and (b) moot; and (2) enter Defendants' default pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ...