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Immel v. Amore Limited Partnership

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 13, 2017

VICTORIA IMMEL et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AMORE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP d/b/a AMORE MANAGEMENT COMPANY et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORA BARRY FISCHER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court in this matter is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction. (Docket No. 5). Having considered Plaintiffs' Complaint, (Docket No. 1); Defendants' motion to dismiss and supporting briefing, (Docket Nos. 5, 7); Plaintiff's response in opposition, (Docket No. 8); and Defendants' reply, wherein Defendants rest upon their initial brief, (Docket No. 13), Defendants' motion to dismiss is DENIED.

         II. Background

         This matter arises from Plaintiff's residence at Fifth Neville Apartments (“Fifth Neville”). The following pertinent facts are alleged in the Complaint, which the Court will accept as true for the sole purpose of deciding the pending motion.

         Plaintiff, who is twenty-two years old, has been diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 3). As a result, Plaintiff experiences excessive anxiety and difficulty regulating her emotions. (Id.). In 2012, Plaintiff relocated to Pittsburgh from Ohio and resided with her fiancé at Fifth Neville, which has a no-pet policy and is managed by Defendant Amore Limited Partnership d/b/a Amore Management Company (“Amore”). (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10). After moving to Pittsburgh, Plaintiff received treatment from Antoinette Montgomery, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. (Id. at ¶ 11). In December 2015, Ms. Montgomery prepared a letter verifying that Plaintiff qualified as a person with a disability under the Fair Housing Act and stating that “an emotional support animal will significantly help in alleviating [her] symptoms and will enhance her ability to live independently.” (Id. at ¶ 12). Plaintiff provided Amore with Ms. Montgomery's letter and requested permission for an emotional support dog to live with her at Fifth Neville. (Id. at ¶ 13). In a letter dated January 4, 2016, Amore requested that Ms. Montgomery provide additional information by completing an enclosed form. (Id. at ¶ 14). Ms. Montgomery completed the form and attached a letter further detailing the nature of Plaintiff's disability. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17).

         In a letter dated February 10, 2016, Amore denied Plaintiff's request, stating that she had failed to demonstrate that the “emotional impediments and environmental stressors impacting on [her] are not or cannot be adequately addressed based upon the existence of [her] relationship with her significant other with whom [she is] living.” (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff forwarded an e-mail from Ms. Montgomery to Amore in which Ms. Montgomery stated that Plaintiff's living arrangement with her fiancé was irrelevant to her need for an emotional support animal. (Id. at ¶ 19). On March 21, 2016, a second medical professional, Jennifer Melegari, CNP of Union Physician Services, sent a letter to Amore in which she verified Plaintiff's disability and stated that she had prescribed an emotional support animal. (Id. at ¶ 20). On April 7, 2016 and May 25, 2016, Ms. Melegari responded to Amore's requests for additional information. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-23). As a result of Amore's denial of Plaintiff's request, the emotional support dog lived with Plaintiff's mother in Ohio from December 2015 to June 2016. (Id. at ¶ 25). In June 2016, Plaintiff moved to Lindenbrooke, a different property managed by Amore, which permits pets. (Id. at ¶ 27). Because Amore has not approved Plaintiff's request, her emotional support dog is considered an ordinary pet and is prohibited from accompanying Plaintiff in the common areas at Lindenbrooke. (Id. at ¶ 28).

         Plaintiff further alleges that through an audit test conducted in November 2014, the Fair Housing Partnership (“FHP”) was made aware of Amore's discriminatory policies regarding requests for emotional support animals. (Id. at ¶ 32). FHP conducted a series of controlled tests through which testers contacted Amore's properties seeking to rent a unit as a person with an emotional support dog and as a person without one. (Id. at ¶ 33). FHP found that when testers requested an emotional support dog, the property manager contacted Amore's corporate office, which would decline the request. (Id. at ¶ 34). In July 2015, FHP conducted additional audit testing which showed that Amore masked its practice of denying emotional support dogs by initially granting reasonable accommodation requests but requiring approval by the corporate office. (Id. at ¶ 35). On February 13, 2016, Plaintiff contacted FHP regarding Amore's denial of her request for an emotional support dog. (Id. at ¶ 36). FHP's testing of Fifth Neville revealed that Amore's policy is for a housing application to be approved by its corporate office before a reasonable accommodation can be requested. (Id. at ¶ 37).

         Plaintiff filed this action on September 23, 2016, alleging a claim against Defendants under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 for the violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(2) and 3604(f)(3)(B). (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42). Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and supporting brief on November 16, 2016. (Docket Nos. 5, 7). Plaintiff filed her Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion on December 7, 2016. (Docket No. 8). Defendants filed a Reply Brief, wherein they rest upon their initial brief, on January 4, 2017. (Docket No. 13). This matter is now ripe for disposition.

         III. Legal Standard

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must “‘accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'” Eid v. Thompson, 740 F.3d 118, 122 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge, the plaintiff's “‘[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Thus, ‘only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.'” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).

         Although the Court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, “‘[it is] not compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Instead, the plaintiff must plead facts which permit the court to make a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Consistent with these principles, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has prescribed a three-step analysis for purposes of determining whether a claim is plausible. First, the court should “outline the elements a plaintiff must plead to a state a claim for relief.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012). Second, the court should “peel away” legal conclusions that are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id.; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (“While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.”). Third, the court should assume the veracity of all well-pled factual allegations and then “‘determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Bistrian, 696 F.3d at 365 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). This third step of the analysis is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         IV. ...


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