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Valentin v. Esperanza Housing Counseling

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 31, 2019



          C. Darnell Jones, II J.


         Before this Court is Defendant Esperanza Housing Counseling's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Jonathan Valentin's Third Amended Complaint, which alleges race-based “harassment, hazing, denial of services and legal representation” by Defendant's staff. (Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 8 (ECF No. 16-1).) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss shall be granted. Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.


         Plaintiff is a resident of Philadelphia. (Third Am. Compl. 10.) Defendant is a Philadelphia faith-based nonprofit organization serving Hispanic persons. Esperanza, (last visited Jul. 29, 2019). Plaintiff participated in Defendant's credit and housing counseling program from 2008 until his file was closed on May 13, 2016. (Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3.) Defendant's counselors assisted Plaintiff with a PHFA mortgage grant after Plaintiff received an Act 91 Notice advising him of his lender's intention to foreclose on his home. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 1, 4.) Plaintiff alleges that in 2014 three of Defendant's staff insisted he sell his property to his mother's current husband, and began to harass, haze, and deny him services once his PHFA mortgage grant was exhausted. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff claims Defendant's staff called him a “Spick” on more than one occasion and publicly questioned him regarding his inability to speak Spanish or “help out” with his “own race.” (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff also claims Defendant closed his file in 2016 because of his inability to communicate in Spanish and his refusal to attend Defendant's voluntary workshop programs. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 3.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges Defendant mistreated him because of his criminal history, level of education, financial situation, and family status. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) Defendant eventually referred Plaintiff to a different housing and credit-counseling agency, Philadelphia's Unemployment Project (“PUP”), to further assist with his Act 91 Notice and his unemployment compensation application. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff attempted to engage this new agency, but PUP had limited capacity and resources. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) After this dead-end referral, and Esperanza's alleged “illegal and intentional case file dismissal, ” Plaintiff brought his grievances to this Court. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 9.)

         On May 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint, alleging the aforementioned race-based harassment, hazing, and denial of services. (ECF No. 2.) On June 20, 2018, without seeking leave, Plaintiff filed a pro se Amended Complaint containing similar allegations. (ECF No. 6.) Defendant answered on August 10, 2018. (ECF No. 9.) On November 26, 2018, without seeking leave or notifying the Court, Plaintiff filed a pro se Second Amended Complaint under the cover of an unrelated motion, elaborating on the allegations in his Amended Complaint but omitting previously included exhibits. (ECF No. 12.) Plaintiff did likewise on January 28, 2019, filing a pro se Third Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 16.) Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint invokes: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692(d); The United States Naval Code, 10 U.S.C. § 8464; and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. (Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-18.) Plaintiff seeks monetary relief for lost income, expenses, and legal fees in the aggregate amount of $251, 741.76. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) In response to Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, on March 19, 2019, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 22.)


         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts 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.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[A]ll civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). An inquiry into facial plausibility consists of three parts: “(1) identifying the elements of the claim; (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations; and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         It is incumbent upon a plaintiff to plead with clarity. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Courts must liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's pleadings. Higgs v. Att'y Gen. of the United States, 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233 (internal quotations marks and citation omitted). This standard, which applies to all civil cases, “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         A. Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

         The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) protects consumers from abusive, deceptive, or otherwise unfair debt collection practices. 15 U.S.C. § 1692. To establish a facially plausible claim under the FDCPA, a Plaintiff must show: “(1) he is a consumer; (2) the defendant is a debt collector; (3) the defendant's challenged practice involves an attempt to collect a debt as FDCPA defines it; and (4) the defendant has violated a provision of the FDCPA in attempting to collect debt.” St. Pierre v. Retrieval Masters Creditors Bureau Inc., 898 F.3d 351, 358 (3d Cir. 2018). Assuming arguendo, Plaintiff is a consumer, his Amended Complaint fails to state a claim because it does not assert, let alone show, that Defendant is a debt collector, that Defendant attempted to collect a debt, or that Defendant violated a provision of the FDCPA. Furthermore, Defendant appears to be outside the ambit of the FDCPA, whose definition of “debt collector” specifically excludes a “nonprofit organization which, at the request of customers, performs bona fide customer credit counseling.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a)(6)(E). Therefore, amendment would be futile and Plaintiff's FDCPA claim is dismissed with prejudice.

         B. United States Naval Code

         This Court construes Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as seeking relief for “hazing” under 10 U.S.C. § 8464, which defines and prohibits hazing at the United States Naval Academy. However, the provision cited by Plaintiff is part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”), which applies only to certain-generally military-related-persons, as enumerated in 10 U.S.C. § 802. Plaintiff fails to allege any facts to show Defendant is subject to the UCMJ. Therefore, the provision of the UCMJ cited by Plaintiff is not applicable and Plaintiff's related claim is not cognizable as presented. ...

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