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Sams v. GA West Gate, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

January 30, 2017

TENYIKA SAMS; BRIGITTE BROWN; MARIE DAVIS; TOMEKA DUDLEY; SHANEQUITA FRAZIER; ADRIAN KENNEDY; LESLIE MITCHELL; LORETTA MOBLEY; SHANA ROUSE; NATALIE WALLACE; LATOYA WHITE; JNAI WHITEHEAD; ROSHAUN WILLIAMS; SAVANNAH-CHATHAM COUNTY FAIR HOUSING COUNCIL, INC.; JEANIE BELALCAZAR; and CLYDE JERRON CAMPBELL; Plaintiffs,
v.
GA WEST GATE, LLC; AMERICAN APARTMENT MANAGEMENT COMPANY, INC.; CHG WEST GATE, LLC; and CITY OF GARDEN CITY; Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant CHG West Gate, LLC's ("CHG") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 34}, Defendant American Apartment Management Company, Inc.'s ("American") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 36}, Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 40), Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Default against Defendant GA West Gate LLC (Doc. 79), and Plaintiffs' Motion to Withdraw Request for Entry of Default and to Dismiss Defendant GA West Gate, LLC (Doc 85). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion, for Leave to File (Doc. 40} is GRANTED. Defendants CHG and American's Motions to Dismiss (Doc. 34; Doc. 36) are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Plaintiffs' Motion to Withdraw (Doc. 85) is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Default (Doc. 79) is DISMISSED AS MOOT. Finally, Defendant GA West Gate LLC is DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs in this case are tenants and former tenants of the Westgate Apartments in Garden City, and a nonprofit corporation whose goal is the promotion of equal opportunity in housing rental.[1] (Doc. 40, Attach. 1 ¶¶ 5, 6.) Between September. 20, 2008 and December 12, 2012, Defendant GA West Gate, LLC owned, operated, and managed the Westgate Apartments. (Id. ¶ 7.) In 2012, however, an individual named Hans Juhle-a principal with Integra Property Group-acquired the Westgate Apartments in order to float a public authority bond.[2] (Id. ¶ 37.) Integra Property Group established the Chisom Housing Group as a nonprofit for purposes of the bond, and created Defendant CHG to own the Westgate Apartments. (Id. ¶ 38.) Defendant American operated as the managing agent of the apartments. (Id. at ¶ 8.) To secure public authority bond financing, Integra Property Group and Defendant American sought Garden City approval to issue the bond. (Id. ¶ 39.) To further that goal, Mr. Juhle met with the Garden City Police Chief and assured him that Defendant CHG would cooperate with police. (Id.) Moreover, Mr. Juhle directed the Westgate apartment's on-site management to meet with the Garden City Police Chief. (Id.)

         In addition to seeking approval for the bond and communicating with the Garden City Police Chief, Defendants CHG and American continued to enforce certain restrictions on Westgate tenants put in place by the apartment's previous owners and managers. (Id. ¶ 42.) These restrictions included the enforcement of a 10:00 p.m. curfew, restrictions on the use of the apartment grounds for children's play, and the threat of eviction for violations of these rules. (Id.) Additionally, Defendants imposed a 99-year criminal history rule. (Id. ¶ 44) This rule barred from residency any individual who had certain felony or misdemeanor convictions within the past 99 years. (Id.) The felony and misdemeanor convictions encompassed by the rules included injuries to a person, damage to property, manufacturing or distributing illegal substances, illegal use or possession of . any controlled substance, possession of an unregistered firearm or illegal weapon, harm to a child, harm to an animal, or any felony in the past 10 years. (Id.) To enforce this rule, Defendants CHG and American requested that all tenants report to the Garden City police department for a criminal history probe. (See, e.g., id. ¶ 50.) Each Plaintiff in this case complied with this requirement.

         In December 2013, Defendants CHG and American began seeking to evict certain tenants because of their criminal history. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiffs Mitchell, Brown, Sams, and Whitehead were served with eviction notices between December 17, 2013 and February 27, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46.) However, these Plaintiffs fought the evictions and in March of 2014, a state court quashed the eviction proceedings. (Id. ¶ 47.) Despite the lack of successful eviction proceedings, many other Westgate tenants remained fearful that they would be evicted pursuant to the 99-year rule. (Id.)

         On October 21, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against various defendants in this Court. (Doc. 1.) On March 13, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 31.) Plaintiffs claimed that Defendants CHG and American committed discriminatory housing practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act and engaged in a conspiracy to deprive Plaintiffs of equal protection of the laws. (Doc. 31.) On March 25, 2016, Defendants CHG and American filed Motions to Dismiss alleging that Plaintiffs had failed to state a claim against them. (Doc. 24; Doc. 36.) On April 11, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Response (Doc. 41) to the motions to dismiss and also filed a Motion to Amend or Correct the Amended Complaint (Doc. 40).

         ANALYSIS

         I. DISMISSAL OF DEFENDANT GA WEST GATE LLC

         As an initial matter, Plaintiffs have requested that Defendant Ga Westgate be dismissed. (Doc. 85.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a) (1) (A) (i), a plaintiff may dismiss an action by filing "a notice of dismissal before the opposing party serves either an answer or a motion for summary judgment." Because Defendant GA West Gate has filed neither an answer nor a motion for summary judgment in this case, Plaintiffs' request (Doc. 85) is GRANTED and Defendant GA West Gate LLC is DISMISSED.[3] See Plains Growers, Inc. v. Ickes-Braun Glasshouses, Inc., 474 F.2d 250, 255 (5th Cir. 1973) ("[Pleading the rules governing dismissal by notice and dismissal by motion together, we conclude that it was intended by the rule-makers to permit dismissal against such of the defendants as have not served an answer or motion for summary judgment . . . ").[4] As a result, Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Default (Doc. 79) is DISMISSED AS MOOT.

         II. MOTION TO AMEND

         Plaintiffs have requested that the Court grant them leave to amend their complaint in response to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. 40.) Even where the time for filing an amended complaint has passed, Courts may grant permission to amend "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) (2). There has been neither prejudice nor delay in this case such as would justify denying Plaintiffs' motion. See In re Engle Cases, 767 F.3d 1082, 1182-09 (11th Cir. 2014) (explaining that motion for leave to amend may be denied where "there has been undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, or repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party; or . . where amendment would be futile"). Moreover, the Court does not find Plaintiffs' amendment futile. As will be discussed further below, Plaintiffs' amendment results in adequate pleading of certain of Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants CHG and American. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend is GRANTED. (Doc. 4 0.)

         III. MOTION TO DISMISS

         Upon granting Plaintiffs motion to amend, the Court would generally dismiss Defendants' Motions to Dismiss as moot. However, Defendants filed a response to the motion to amend arguing that Plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint still failed to state a claim for relief under Rule 12(b) (6). (Doc. 64.) Accordingly, the Court will review ...


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