United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
S. MOODY, JR. DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant City of Temple
Terrace's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
(Doc. 7), Defendant Len Valenti's Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 8), and Plaintiff's
Responses in Opposition (Docs. 12 & 13). Upon review, the
Court partially grants Defendants' Motions. The Court
will not dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 4) because
Count I sufficiently states a claim that the City's
Rental Housing Program violates the unconstitutional
conditions doctrine. The Court will dismiss Count II without
prejudice and the claims against Valenti with prejudice.
Lea Family Partnership Ltd. (“Lea Family”) is a
Florida Limited Partnership that owns rental homes in Temple
Terrace, Florida. In November 2016, Lea Family filed this
purported class action against the City of Temple Terrace
(“the City”) and Len Valenti
(“Valenti”), the City's Housing Compliance
Officer, under section 1983. Lea Family challenges the
constitutionality of the City's Rental Housing Program
under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Although Lea
Family filed its Complaint (Doc. 4) in Florida state court,
the City timely removed the case to this Court.
City's Rental Housing Program
City's Rental Housing Program (“the Program”)
is codified in the City's Code of Ordinances at sections
8-133 to 8-137. The Program applies to one-family,
two-family, and three-family dwelling units in the City that
the property owner rents to others. Temple Terrace, Fla.,
Code of Ordinances § 8-133(a). It does not apply to
dwelling units in which the property owner resides.
Id. The City instituted the Program in order to (1)
preserve neighborhoods, (2) protect property values, (3)
protect renters from undisclosed code violations, and (4)
safeguard public health and safety by protecting residents
from problems caused by substandard conditions. (Doc 4, Ex.
order to rent a dwelling unit, the property owner must obtain
an annual rental permit from the fire department. §
8-134(a). The owner applies for the permit by completing and
submitting a form provided by the fire department.
Id. The ordinance states that, “[b]y applying
for a permit, the property owner consents to periodic
inspections of the dwelling unit for violations of the
minimum housing code and other related codes at any
reasonable time.” Id. Upon receipt of the
owner's application, the City issues an annual rental
permit to the owner and will not revoke it if the owner pays
a rental permit fee, provides a sworn statement that the
dwelling unit is not in violation of the applicable codes,
and the City's inspections of the unit confirm
compliance. § 8-134(b).
Code describes the required inspections as
“periodic” but does not otherwise explain how
frequently they must occur. § 8-135(a). However, a fee
schedule published by the fire department states that
“inspections will be conducted on an annual basis by
zone.” (Doc 4, Ex. E.) If a unit is occupied, the City
will not conduct an inspection of the unit unless it has
obtained the consent of the occupant or a warrant. §
Program prohibits a property owner from leasing a dwelling
unit if the owner has not applied for a rental permit and
paid the required permit fee. § 8-134(d). If the City
has reason to believe that the owner is leasing a unit
without a permit, the City must give the owner notice of the
Program's requirements and thirty days to comply.
Id. If the owner fails to apply for the permit or
pay the fee within the requisite timeframe, the City can
pursue enforcement proceedings and penalties against the
owner. Id. These penalties may include the
imposition of fines or even criminal charges. Id.
Family alleges that the Program-both on its face and as
applied-violates property owners' Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights. Lea Family contends that the Program
violates the Fourth Amendment because it imposes coercive,
warrantless searches of property owners' rental units as
a precondition to them renting those units to others. (Doc.
4, ¶ 1.) Lea Family contends that the Program violates
the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause
because it arbitrarily applies to the owners of some rental
properties but not others. (Id. ¶ 110.)
Complaint, Lea Family makes the following factual allegations
in support of its claims:
• Lea Family owns and rents at least six properties in
Temple Terrace that are subject to the Program. (Doc 4,
• Each of Lea Family's properties have been
inspected at least once (id. ¶ 8) and/or
repeatedly by the City since 2012 (id. ¶ 29).
• Lea Family has paid the “coercive”
permitting fees required by the Program. (Id.)
• Since the Program's inception, Lea Family has paid
at least $3800 in permitting fees. (Id. ¶ 36.)
• Lea Family has been adversely affected by the
City's actions in enacting and enforcing the Program
because, at all relevant times, Lea Family has been faced
with criminal charges, fines, and potential loss of rental
income for failing to consent to warrantless searches of its
rental properties. (Id. ¶ 29.)
• Lea Family has not voluntarily and knowingly consented
to the City's inspections. (Id. ¶ 30.)
• The City coerced each inspection of Lea Family's
property through the implied threat of loss of property or
liberty, and Lea Family continues to be coerced into
providing involuntary consent to such inspections.
(Id. ¶ 31.)
• The City coerced each and every inspection of Lea
Family's properties. Lea Family consented to the searches
only to avoid criminal liability and preserve its right to
continue renting out its properties. Lea Family did not
voluntarily consent to any search of any of its properties.
(Id. ¶ 33.)
• Any refusal or failure to allow an inspection results
in threats from the City in the form of a “Notice of
Violation.” These notices threaten that failure to
allow an inspection could result in referral of the case to
the Municipal Code Enforcement Board. (Id. ¶
• Valenti mailed Lea Family a Notice of Violation
regarding its property at 827 East River Drive in 2016.
• Lea Family has refused and intends to refuse all
further efforts by the City to inspect its properties and
collect fees from it to fund the inspection of its properties
and others. (Id. ¶ 37.)
• Because of its refusal to allow further inspections,
Lea Family is at “imminent risk” of facing
criminal charges and/or loss of its property rights in
response to this assertion of its Fourth Amendment rights.
(Id. ¶ 38.)
City and Valenti argue that the Court should dismiss Lea
Family's Complaint for several reasons. First, they argue
that Lea Family does not have standing to bring this case
because it has not alleged that it has suffered an injury in
fact. Second, they argue that Lea Family has not adequately
pled a claim under either the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment.
In addition, Valenti argues that the Court should dismiss the
claims alleged against him in his personal and official
capacities. Because the issue of standing implicates the
Court's subject matter jurisdiction, the Court must
consider that argument first.
III standing is the determination of whether a plaintiff is
the appropriate party to bring a matter to the court for
adjudication. “In essence[, ] the question of standing
is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide
the merits of the ...