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Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Morgan Properties Management Company, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 11, 2017

FAIR HOUSING RIGHTS CENTER IN SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MORGAN PROPERTIES MANAGEMENT COMPANY, LLC, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM

          R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF No. 22.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants[1] unlawfully discriminated against tenants with disabilities and discouraged persons with disabilities from applying to live in Defendants' apartments. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 2.) Plaintiff Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania (“FHRC”) is a non-profit agency that works to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided equal access to housing opportunities. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         In 2012, Plaintiff received a complaint from a disabled person (“the complainant”) who lived at Brookside Manor. This is a property owned by KBF and operated by Morgan. (Id. ¶ 25.) The complainant was unable to work because of his disability, and therefore relied on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in order to pay his rent. (Id.) Defendants required the complainant to pay rent on the first day of every month; however, the complainant did not receive his social security check until after the rent was due. (Id.) The complainant requested for KBF and Morgan to change his rental due date so that it was after he received his SSDI check. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that KBF and Morgan denied his request, and instead charged him late fees and refused to renew the complainant's lease. (Id.)

         After receiving this complaint, Plaintiff launched an investigation into the potential disability discrimination occurring at Defendants' other properties. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff investigated three buildings in the Philadelphia area: Brookside Manor Apartments and Townhomes, Kingswood Apartments, and Montgomery Woods Townhomes. (Id. ¶ 27.) As part of its investigation, Plaintiff engaged three different “testers” to contact the respective buildings and to inquire about Defendants' policies for adjusting monthly rental due dates for SSDI recipients. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that SSDI recipients who began receiving benefits after 1997 receive their benefits check on either the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of the month. (Id. ¶ 4.)

         On June 29, 2012, tester one (“T1”) called Brookside Manor Apartments and Townhomes posing as a person inquiring about housing opportunities for her sister. (Id. ¶ 28.) T1 told one of the Brookside employees that her sister had a disability and received SSDI checks on the 15th of each month. (Id. ¶ 29.) T1 asked the employee if her sister could be permitted to pay the rent when she receives her SSDI check, on the 15th of each month. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the employee told TI that company policy is that the rent is always due on the first of the month and “that there were no exceptions to this rule.” (Id. ¶ 30.) The employee also said that if a tenant paid rent on the 15th of the month, Morgan and KBF would have already begun court proceedings against the tenant. (Id. ¶ 31.) According to the employee, a tenant would therefore have to pay late fees and court fees. (Id.)

         On July 17, 2012, tester two (“T2”) called Kingswood Apartments. (Id. ¶ 32.) Like TI, T2 stated that she was calling on behalf of her sister, who received SSDI payments on the 15th of each month because of her disability. (Id. ¶ 33.) T2 told the employee that the SSDI checks were her sister's sole source of income. (Id.) T2 then asked if Kingswood Apartments could be flexible with the rental due date for her disabled sister. (Id. ¶ 34.) The employee told T2 to check with the local Kingswood offices. (Id.) T2 then called the local Kingswood office and was told that the rent is due on the first day of each month and that there was a five-day grace period. (Id. ¶ 36.) After asking if any accommodation could be made for her sister, another Kingswood employee told T2 that the renter would be required to pay rent one month in advance in order to avoid late fees. (Id. ¶ 38.)

         On June 19, 2013, tester three (“T3”) made an appointment to view one of the Montgomery Woods Townhomes. (Id. ¶ 39.) Like T1 and T2, T3 told the employee that her sister was disabled and received SSDI benefits on the 15th of each month. T3 asked if the rental due date could be the 15th of the month instead of the 1st of the month. (Id. ¶ 43.) The employee told T3 that she did not think it was possible to adjust the rental due date, but told T3 that she would check with her boss. (Id. ¶ 44.) On June 25, T3 called the employee to follow-up, and was told that Montgomery would not adjust the due date. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         B. Procedural History

         On August 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) against Defendants for violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. (Id. ¶ 53.) HUD accepted the complaint and referred it to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”). (Id. ¶¶ 53-54.) On September 29, 2015, the PHRC found that probable cause existed that Morgan engaged in unlawful discrimination. (Id. ¶ 54.) The PHRC has not resolved Plaintiff's complaint. (Id.)

         On August 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 1.) On September 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants have engaged in discriminatory actions and refused to make reasonable housing accommodations to persons with disabilities. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 65, 69.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' acts deny people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' discriminatory actions are violations of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3604(f) (“FHA”) (Count I) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 955(h)(3.2) (“PHRA”) (Count II). (Id. ¶¶ 66, 69.) Defendant Morgan filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on October 28, 2016. (ECF No. 8.) On October 31, 2016, all Defendants filed an Amended Answer with affirmative defenses. (ECF No. 9.) On December 29, 2016, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 22; Defs.' Br., ECF No. 23.) On January 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants' Motion. (Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 27.) Defendants' request for oral argument on the Motion was granted and argument was held on March 30, 2017. (ECF No. 34.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment on the pleadings “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Courts evaluate a Rule 12(c) motion under the same standard as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Turbe v. Gov't of the V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). A motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted “only if, viewing all the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, no material issue of fact remains and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Knepper v. Rite Aid Corp., 675 F.3d 249, 257 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Inst. for Scientific Info., Inc. v. Gordon & Breach, Sci. Publishers, Inc., 931 F.2d 1002, 1005 (3d Cir. 1991) (“[A Rule 12(c) motion] only has utility when all the material allegations of fact are admitted in the pleadings and only questions of law remain.” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         In evaluating a Rule 12(c) motion, the Court must “accept the complaint's well-pleaded allegations as true, and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but will not accept unsupported conclusory statements.” DiCarlo v. St. Mary Hosp., 530 F.3d 255, 262-63 (3d Cir. 2008). The pleadings must contain sufficient factual allegations so as to state a facially plausible claim for relief. See, e.g., Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009). A claim possesses such plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against disabled people by making housing unavailable to SSDI recipients, and by refusing to make reasonable accommodations necessary to afford disabled people an equal opportunity to use and enjoy Defendants' properties.[2]

         A. Otherwise Make Unavailable

         Plaintiff argues that Defendants' inflexible policy, which requires all tenants to pay rent on the first day of the month, has the effect of making housing unavailable to people with ...


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