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Madden v. Canus Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 3, 2019

KATHERINE MADDEN, Plaintiff
v.
CANUS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSHUA D. WOLSON, J.

         Katherine Madden has sued Canus Corporation, alleging that Canus has delayed unreasonably in processing her application to rent an apartment at the Ardmore Crossing housing complex. Canus moves to dismiss, arguing that Ms. Madden's claims are not ripe and that they fail in any event. The Court concludes that the claims are ripe to the extent they allege an unreasonable delay in processing Ms. Madden's application. Some of Ms. Madden's claims fail, including two that she concedes fail. For others, however, including claims under the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act, Ms. Madden has pled plausible claims that can move forward.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Ms. Madden suffers from congestive heart failure with atrial fibrillation, which affects her ability to walk, climb stairs, lift items, and/or stand for long periods of time. (ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 12-13.) She also suffers from depression and maintains an emotional support cat. (Id. at ¶ 10.) In April 2017, Ms. Madden began the process of applying to participate in the Montgomery County Housing Authority's (“MCHA”) Housing Choice Voucher Program for affordable senior housing at Ardmore Crossing, which is an apartment complex that Canus owns and/or managers. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 15.) On March 2, 2018, Ms. Madden received a notification that she was at the top of the waiting list for an apartment at Ardmore Crossing. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Ms. Madden then tried to ascertain whether she would be able to bring her emotional support cat with her. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-33.) During a meeting on September 20, 2018, Canus representatives agreed that Ms. Madden's request for an accommodation for her emotional support cat would be tabled for an indefinite period. (Id. at ¶ 31.) At some unspecified point, Canus stated that her application to Ardmore Crossing should be skipped because of her disability. (Id. at ¶ 88.)

         On September 26, 2018, MCHA issued an Ardmore Crossing housing voucher to Ms. Madden. (Id. at ¶ 33.) On October 9, 2018, Canus advised Ms. Madden that there was an empty unit but that the apartment required a full renovation before Canus could show the apartment or accept a new application. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Ms. Madden contends this was false. (Id. at ¶ 107.) Canus later advised Ms. Madden that renovations had stalled because a needed roof replacement took priority. (Id. at ¶¶ 37, 41.) Ms. Madden contends this statement was false as well. (Id. at ¶ 108.) Over the next few months, Ms. Madden made repeated inquiries as to the status of the apartment and the overall application process, to no avail. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-43.)

         In March 2019, a resident of Ardmore Crossing told Ms. Madden that there were three vacant units in the building. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Ms. Madden initiated this lawsuit on April 15, 2019. Then, on May 23, 2019, Canus advised that it would contact Ms. Madden when an appointment could be scheduled so that she could continue with the rental process. (Id. at ¶ 46.) From that time until July 2, 2019, Ms. Madden did not receive any notice about the status of her application, nor had Canus scheduled an appointment. (Id. at ¶ 47.) When Ms. Madden filed her Amended Complaint on July 15, 2019, she did not indicate the status of her rental application.

         In her Amended Complaint, Ms. Madden asserts claims against Canus for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Rehab Act”), violations of Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), and common law claims for misrepresentation and concerted tortious conduct.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A district court may dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The party asserting subject matter jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing its existence. See Lincoln Ben. Life Co. v. AEI Life, LLC, 800 F.3d 99, 105 (3d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Challenges to subject matter jurisdiction may be facial or factual. See Id. “A facial attack ‘concerns an alleged pleading deficiency whereas a factual attack concerns the actual failure of [a plaintiff's] claims to comport [factually] with the jurisdictional prerequisites.'” Id. (quote omitted). “In reviewing a facial attack, the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. (same).

         A district court may also dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rather than require detailed pleadings, the “Rules demand only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (same). A claim has facial plausibility when the complaint contains factual allegations that permit the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (same). In doing so, the court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (same). Under the governing “pleading regime[, ]” a court confronted with a 12(b)(6) motion must take three steps. First, it must identify the elements needed to set forth a particular claim. Id. at 878 (same). Second, it should identify conclusory allegations, such as legal conclusions, that are not entitled to the presumption of truth. Id. (same). Third, with respect to well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should accept those allegations as true and “determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (same). The court must “construe those truths in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and then draw all reasonable inferences from them.” Id. at 790 (citations omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Ripeness

         Canus contends that because it has not denied Ms. Madden a unit at Ardmore Crossing and has not denied her request to accommodate her emotional support animal, Ms. Madden's FHA claims are not ripe for adjudication. That argument ignores Ms. Madden's allegations that Canus' delay in processing her rental application harmed her. Viewed through this lens, Ms. Madden's claims are ripe for review.

         “Article III of the Constitution limits the federal judiciary's authority to exercise its ‘judicial Power' to ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies.'” Plains All Am. Pipeline L.P. v. Cook, 866 F.3d 534, 538-39 (3d Cir. 2017) (quotation omitted). The ripeness doctrine operates “to determine whether a party has brought an action prematurely . . . and counsels abstention until such a time as a dispute is sufficiently concrete to satisfy the constitutional and prudential requirements . . . .” Id. (quotation omitted). “[T]he Supreme Court laid out two principal considerations for gauging ripeness including (1) ‘the fitness of the issues for judicial decision' and (2) ‘the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration.'” Id. (quoting Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149 (1967), abrogated on other grounds, Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99 (1977)). “When making a ‘fitness for review' determination, a court considers whether the issues presented are purely legal, and the degree to which the challenged action is final. A court must consider whether the claims involve uncertain and contingent events that may not ...


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