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Berwick Area Landlord Association v. Borough of Berwick

July 16, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure



On February 20, 2007, plaintiffs, the Berwick Area Landlord Association as well as various individual residential rental property owners and tenants in the Borough of Berwick, Pennsylvania, commenced this action with the filing of a complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 against defendant, the Borough of Berwick ("Berwick"). In the complaint, plaintiffs allege that the "Landlord Registration Ordinance" enacted by the Borough of Berwick on January 23, 2007 violates various sections of the United States Constitution as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution and Pennsylvania law.

On March 5, 2007, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.

(Rec. Doc. No. 3.) After several case management conferences, defendant voluntarily agreed to refrain from enforcing the ordinance and also indicated that the ordinance was likely to be amended.

On April 16, 2007, defendant repealed the foregoing ordinance and enacted a new "Landlord Registration Ordinance." ("Amended Ordinance"). On May 7, 2007, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging that the Amended Ordinance violates various sections of the United States Constitution as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution and Pennsylvania law. (Rec. Doc. No. 15.) Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the Amended Ordinance: 1) violates due process due to vagueness (Count I); 2) violates substantive due process (Count II); 3) violates the Equal Protection Clause (Count III); 4) violates the Fourth Amendment (Count IV); 5) violates Pennsylvania's Borough Code (Count V); 6) violates Pennsylvania's Landlord and Tenant Act (Count VI); 7) violates the right to privacy set out in both the United States Constitution and Pennsylvania Constitution (Count VII); and 8) violates the limitations on police powers set out in the Pennsylvania Constitution (Count VIII).

On May 18, 2007, defendant filed a motion to dismiss. (Rec. Doc. No. 18.) Opposing and reply briefs have been filed and the motion is ripe for disposition. Now, for the following reasons, the court will dismiss all federal claims and decline to exercise jurisdiction over the state claims.


I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000). A complaint should be dismissed only if the court, from evaluating the allegations in the complaint, is certain that under any set of facts relief cannot be granted. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Markowitz v. Northeast Land, Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1994).

The failure-to-state-a-claim standard of Rule 12(b)(6) "streamlines Litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a "dispositive issue of law." Id. at 326. If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed "without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Id. at 327.

II. The Amended Ordinance

The stated purpose of the Amended Ordinance is "in order to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens, to establish rights and obligations of owners and tenants relating to the rental of certain residential rental units in the Borough of Berwick and to encourage owners and occupants to maintain and improve the quality of rental housing within the community." § 141.2. Furthermore, the Amended Ordinance makes findings that the "property maintenance of many rental units [] has been somewhat lax." Id. Similarly, "there is a greater incidence of violation of various Codes of the Borough of Berwick in residential rental properties" and the Amended Ordinance estimates that "over 75% of all code violations in the Borough of Berwick occur in tenant occupied structures." Id. In order to achieve these goals and address these problems, the Amended Ordinance imposes several obligations on residential rental property owners and their tenants.

A. Obligations Imposed on Owners

The Amended Ordinance requires that the owner of every rental unit apply for and obtain a license for each rental unit prior to entering into a rental agreement for that unit. § 141.6.1A. With the application for a license, the owner must submit a floor plan of the unit drawn to scale. § 141.6.1F. The owner must also pay an initial license fee of fifty (50) dollars and an annual license and inspection fee in an amount to be established. § 141.6.2B.

The Amended Ordinance also requires that the owner register each unit with the Code Enforcement Officer. § 141.4.6. This appears to be separate from the license requirement. The owner must provide the Code Enforcement Officer with the names and addresses of the current tenants of each residential unit. § 141.4.6F(7). The owner must maintain at each rental unit a document showing the names of the authorized tenants of that rental unit. § 141.4.17B. Owners who live more than fifteen miles from Berwick must designate a manager" who shall reside within fifteen miles of Berwick. § 141.4.2. Additionally, owners must permit annual inspections of all rental units by the Code Enforcement Officer and the failure to permit an inspection is considered a violation of the Amended Ordinance. §§ 141.4.13A; 141.4.15G.

Furthermore, the Amended Ordinance states that "every owner shall be responsible for regulating the conduct and activities of the occupants of every rental unit which he, she or it owns in the Borough of Berwick." § 141.4.1. The failure of the owner to regulate the behavior of occupants and guests in the common areas that results in "fighting , threatening, or other violent or tumultuous behavior," "unreasonable noise," or "creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition" is a violation of the Amended Ordinance. § 141.4.9. Furthermore, the Amended Ordinance states that "within ten days after receipt of written notice from the Code Enforcement Officer that an occupant of a residential rental unit has violated a provision of this Ordinance, the owner shall take immediate steps to remedy the violations and take steps to assure that there is not a reoccurrence [sic] of the violation." § 141.4.10A. Twenty days after receipt of a notice of a violation, the owner must file a report with the Code Enforcement Officer notifying the officer of the actions taken to remedy the violation and prevent its recurrence. § 141.4.10B.

Finally, the Amended Ordinance requires owners to provide "a summary [of the Amended Ordinance] in substantially the form set forth in Appendix A" prior to the commencement of the owner-tenant relationship. § 141.4.5D. Appendix A is entitled "Tenant's Covenants and Obligations" and appears to be a list of obligations that an owner is expected to contractually impose upon his or her tenants. The list of obligations closely mirrors the obligations set out in Section 141.5 of the Amended Ordinance, which is entitled "Occupant Duties."

B. Obligations Imposed on Tenants

The primary obligation imposed on tenants that is at issue in this case is the requirement that all tenants register with the Code Enforcement Officer at City Hall by providing two forms of identification, one of which must consist of a state issued driver's license or photo identification, the other of which can be a passport, birth certificate, social security card, or other government-issued identification. ยง 141.4.16A. If a tenant is unable to present the information in person due to ...

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