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Knellinger v. York Street Prop. Dev., LP

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 6, 2014

RICHARD KNELLINGER, et al.
v.
YORK STREET PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT, LP, et al

Page 463

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 464

For RICHARD KNELLINGER, INTERIOR FURNITURE OUTLET, INC., GIAMARI FURNITURE & BEDDING, INC., DIMITRIOS TRIOBIKAS, MELISSA TSIOBIKAS, Plaintiffs: JOEL F. BIGATEL, LEAD ATTORNEY, NARBERTH, PA.

For YORK STREET PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT, LP, YORK STREET PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT, GP, LLC, YML REALTY, INC., YECHIAL MICHAEL LICHTENSTEIN, also known as MICHAEL LICHTENSTEIN, also known as Y. MICHAEL LICHTENSTEIN, also known as YECHIAL/YECHIEL LICHTENSTEIN, MAHMAN SHIMON LICHTENSTEIN, also known as NACHMAN LICHTENSTEIN, Defendants: BRIAN KINT, MATTHEW A. GLAZER, STEPHEN A. COZEN, COZEN O'CONNOR, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, Defendant: MICHAEL R. MILLER, LEAD ATTORNEY, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA LAW DEPT, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

Page 465

MEMORANDUM

STEWART DALZELL, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

We consider here defendant City of Philadelphia's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. Rule. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The City of Philadelphia (" City" ) asks that we dismiss with prejudice the federal law claims asserted against it and remand the remainder of the case to state

Page 466

court. Plaintiffs oppose the City's motion and request, should we find certain defects in their Complaint, that they be allowed to cure them.

We have jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

II. Standard of Review

A defendant moving to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also, e.g., Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a facially plausible claim to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim is plausible " when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

As the Supreme Court stresses, " the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action...do not suffice." Id. Courts " are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

In the wake of Twombly and Iqbal, our Court of Appeals laid out a two-part test to apply when considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6):

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). In deciding a motion to dismiss, we may consider " the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record," and any " undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

We recite the facts as they appear in the Complaint (" Compl." ).

III. Factual Background

The crux of plaintiffs' lawsuit is the former Thomas W. Buck Hosiery factory, located at 1817-41 York Street in Philadelphia (the " Property" ). Compl. at ¶ 15. Defendant York Street Property Development, LP owned the Property during the times pertinent to this case. Id. at ¶ 16. Defendant YML Realty, Inc. was used as a straw purchaser for the Property to transfer it to the owner. Id. at ¶ 15. Defendant York Street Property Development GP, LLC, is the general partner of York Street Property Development, LP. Id. at ¶ 14. Defendant Mahman Lichtenstein is the President and sole member of York Street Property Development, GP, and defendant Yechiel Michael Lichtenstein is the President and Secretary of YML Realty, Inc. Id. at ¶ ¶ 12-13. These defendants (collectively the " York Street Defendants" ), id. at ¶ 10, along with the City, have been sued in relation to a fire on April 9, 2012 that burned down the Property.

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Id. at ¶ 35. Plaintiffs in this case are Richard Knellinger, Furniture Outlet, Inc., Giamari Furniture & Bedding, Inc., and Dimitrios and Melissa Tsiobikas -- all whose properties were damaged by the fire. Id. at ¶ ¶ 1-5.

Plaintiffs allege that from 2008 until the fire on April 9, 2012, the Property had neither a working sprinkler system nor a working alarm system, and was not properly maintained or secured against trespassers. Id. at ¶ 17. The City of Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections (" L& I" ) issued many violations to the Property between January 2009 and March 2012, apparently to no avail. Id. at ¶ ¶ 18-20. Despite notices from L& I that the Property was unsafe, the plaintiffs allege " numerous vandals, vagrants, drug dealers, drug users, prostitutes, looters, and others were entering upon and/or residing at the Property." Id. at ¶ ¶ 21-22.

In October of 2011, local residents contacted the City about the Property, reporting the unsafe conditions and disrepair. Id. at ¶ 28. L& I Inspector Ted Pendergrass opened a new case on the Property and issued a violation in November of 2011. Id. at ¶ 29. Over the next several months, Mr. Pendergrass and other L& I inspectors visited the Property and informed the York Street Defendants regarding the violations -- including a defective sprinkler system. Id. at ¶ ¶ 30-33. The York Street Defendants did nothing, and on April 9, 2012 the Property burned down. Id. at ¶ ¶ 34-35.

Embers and burning debris spread from the fire, and eventually the Property collapsed, partially onto an adjacent property located at 2411 Kensington Avenue. Id. at ¶ ¶ 36-37. The collapse killed two firefighters and injured two more. Id. at ¶ 38. The fire and collapse also damaged plaintiffs' buildings and property, requiring extensive repairs. Id. at ¶ ¶ 38-40.

In April of 2014, plaintiffs sued the York Street Defendants and the City in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Remand Notice at ¶ 1. In August, the City removed to this Court and promptly filed this motion to dismiss. The City asks that we dismiss plaintiffs' federal law claims for failure to state a claim and then remand this matter to state court. MTD at 5.

Count IV of plaintiffs' complaint claims violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. at ¶ ¶ 73-93. According to the plaintiffs, by " failing to take proper action to address three years of complaints and the conditions at the property giving rise to numerous code violations and notices, [the City] set into action a chain of events that it knew or reasonably should have known would cause the acts and omissions of York Street Defendants that give rise to liability." Id. at ¶ 79. Plaintiffs further allege that the City undertook a special relationship with plaintiffs by issuing citations to the York Street Defendants and providing the sole remedy for code violations at the Property. Id. at ¶ ¶ 80-82. Plaintiffs aver the City failed to train and supervise building ...


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