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Wright v. Mishawaka Housing Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

December 1, 2016

MARY BETH WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
MISHAWAKA HOUSING AUTHORITY and COLLEEN OLUND, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr., Judge

         Plaintiff Mary Beth Wright alleges that the Mishawaka Housing Authority and its former director, Colleen Olund, discriminated against her on the basis of her handicap when it removed and destroyed her wheelchair, furniture, and other property while she was hospitalized. She also argues that she represents a class of similarly situated persons. Both defendants move to dismiss the action and to strike the class allegations.

         I. Background

         Ms. Wright alleges that she was an MHA tenant. While hospitalized in 2015 for problems associated with her disability, MHA sent a notice to her unit that it was evicting her and removing her wheelchair, furniture, and personal property because the apartment had bedbugs. Ms. Wright's attorney, R. Wyatt Mick, Jr., allegedly sent a letter to MHA and called MHA numerous times informing them of her hospitalization. Mr. Mick explained to MHA that Tom Leland, who had a durable power of attorney for Ms. Wright, held funds in a trust account to help Ms. Wright move out of the apartment. Mr. Mick called MHA to try to make arrangements for Ms. Wright's possessions to be moved out. Mr. Mick and Ms. Wright's priest learned that MHA had already removed and destroyed her property, including her motorized wheelchair.

         When Mr. Mick asked MHA at an earlier date if other units were infested with bedbugs, MHA staff responded that they couldn't provide that information. Mr. Mick inferred that other residents had bedbugs that migrated to Ms. Wright's unit. Ms. Wright alleges that Mr. Mick never spoke to the same person twice when he contacted MHA about Ms. Wright, and that his calls always went to voicemail before he could speak with someone.

         Ms. Wright alleges that MHA knew for years that Ms. Wright required a wheelchair and walker. She alleges that Mr. Mick and his wife picked Ms. Wright up for church for several years and that MHA knew it was difficult for her to get into Mr. Mick's car.

         Ms. Wright alleges that Mr. Mick sent a tort claims notice to MHA, an administrative complaint against MHA to HUD, and correspondence to Ms. Olund with the facts of the case, and that these documents informed MHA of Ms. Wright's need for accommodations and summarized communications between MHA and Mr. Mick.

         II.

         Standard of Review Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint typically must meet the “notice pleading” requirement of Rule 8(a), that it set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” so the defendant has “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A court considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff without engaging in fact-finding. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). Detailed factual allegations aren't necessary, but merely reciting the elements of a cause of action isn't sufficient.

         The factual allegations must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The plaintiff must allege facts that, when “accepted as true, [ ] state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. . . . 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) (internal quotations omitted). A plaintiff's claim need not be probable, only plausible, but “a plaintiff must do better than putting a few words on paper that, in the hands of an imaginative reader, might suggest that something has happened to her that might be redressed by the law.” Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 403 (7th Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original).

         III. Discussion

         Ms. Wright bases her claims of discrimination on three anti-discrimination statutes: the Federal Housing Act Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. She also argues that MHA violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and Indiana conversion and constitutional law.

         a. Claims Under the Federal Anti-Discrimination Statutes

         Ms. Wright's first argument is that MHA violated her rights under the Fair Housing Act Amendments when it discriminated against her on account of her disability. The FHAA makes it illegal:

(1) To discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap ...

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