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Siler v. Abbott House, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

November 16, 2017

RACHEL SILER, Plaintiff,
ABBOTT HOUSE INC., et al., Defendants.



         Defendants Abbott House, Inc. and Casmat Professional Services move to dismiss Plaintiff Rachel Siler's Complaint, which raises several Fair Housing Act claims and two related tortious interference claims. [ECF Nos. 1; 16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16, pp. 1-14]. In the alternative, Defendants move to strike Siler's requests for injunctive and declaratory relief on any surviving claims. [ECF No. 16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16, pp. 14-16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16]. Siler filed an opposition response, and Defendants filed a reply. [ECF Nos. 18');">18');">18');">18');">18');">18');">18');">18; 24]. The entire case was referred to me after the parties consented to full magistrate-judge jurisdiction. [ECF Nos. 15; 39].

         The Court grants in part and denies in part the motion to dismiss. First, the Court dismisses without prejudice Count V, which raises a claim for intentional interference with a contractual relationship, because Siler has not alleged that Defendants actually procured a breach of Siler's lease agreement. Second, the Court dismisses without prejudice Counts II through IV as against Casmat only because Siler fails to allege that Casmat was personally involved in the discriminatory conduct underlying those counts. The motion to dismiss is otherwise denied.

         In addition, the Court strikes without prejudice Siler's requests for injunctive relief and declaratory relief. Siler's requested injunction, as phrased, is akin to asking Defendants to “obey the law, ” which is not a permissible form of injunctive relief. And Siler's request for declaratory relief fails to set forth an immediate and definite, rather than speculative, threat of injury.

         Siler may amend the Complaint within 10 days, and, in doing so, may add any necessary allegations if she can do so in good faith and without violating Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Defendants must then respond to the Amended Complaint within 14 days.

         I. Allegations in the Complaint

         Siler has spinal muscular atrophy and moves with the aid of a wheelchair. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 6]. Siler also has a service dog -- a standard poodle named Minty -- who assists her in various tasks. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 7]. Siler also schedules personal assistants to help her around her work schedule. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 31].

         Siler works as an Independent Living Advocate for the Center for Independent Living of South Florida, a position she acquired in April 2016');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16 while living in Chicago. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 11]. When she got the job, she hired a Miami-based real estate agent and began looking for housing in Miami that would meet her needs. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 13-15].

         Siler settled on a condominium in Miami Beach called Abbott House, which Abbott House, Inc. operates and Casmat manages. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 8-9, 16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16');">16-17]. Siler signed a one-year lease with the owners of one of the condominium units. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 18');">18');">18');">18');">18');">18');">18');">18]. As a condition of signing the lease, however, Siler had to meet with, and receive approval from, the screening committee for Abbott House's Board of Directors. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 20]. But one of the condo owners told Siler that this was just a “formality.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 21].

         Before moving from Chicago, Siler spoke with Orlando Castro -- a Casmat employee who was an agent and Licensed Community Association Manager for Abbott House -- and confirmed, in writing, that she could move into her condo by a specific date. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 10, 22]. Based on Castro's confirmation, Siler packed her belongings into a rented moving truck, drove from Chicago to Miami, and checked into a hotel for a few days. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 23-24].

         When Castro met Siler in person, he was surprised that she had a “condition.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 25]. Castro told Siler that the building's office was on the sixth floor, but the elevator reached only the fifth floor. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 26]. But when Siler inspected the elevator, she saw that it had a button for the sixth floor. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 27].

         Siler and her personal assistant then met with two Board members about her lease (the Complaint does not identify them by name). [ECF No. 1, ¶ 28]. Siler claims that one of the Board members asked her personal assistant “inappropriate questions regarding the nature and extent” of Siler's disability, including: “Do you live with her?”, “Will you always be with her?”, and “Do you sleep with her?” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 29]. Siler's personal assistant answered “no” to those questions and added that Siler could speak for herself, and Siler explained that she schedules personal assistants around her 40-hour-a-week work schedule. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 30-31].

         The same Board member then “began to dissuade” Siler from living at Abbott House by telling her several things. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 32]. First, “that the Board of Directors did not want to be held liable if something were to happen to [Siler].” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 32(a)]. Second, “that the building only had one elevator” -- the Board member then asked Siler what she would do if the elevator stopped working, to which Siler answered that she would work from home. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 32(b)]. Third, “that, on a previous occasion, fire fighters and paramedics did not want to climb stairs to rescue an elderly resident who was unable to evacuate due to a fire.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 32(c)]. Fourth, “that the board did not have the funds to pay for modifications to make the building accessible” -- to which Siler responded that she would pay for any necessary modifications. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 32(d)]. Fifth, the Board member asked Siler “if she drove.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 32(e)].

         The Board members then approved Siler's rental request, but on the condition that she sign a liability waiver protecting Abbott House from any liability should she become injured. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 33]. Siler agreed, and she was to receive the waiver the next day. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 34]. Siler then received keys to the public areas, including a door that had a wheelchair ramp. Id.

         Before Siler signed the waiver, however, Castro told her via email that the Board had denied her rental request because “the building has not the appropriate accessibility for people with disabilities [sic] conditions.” [ECF Nos. 1, ¶¶ 35-37; 1-1]. The letter claimed that the building lacked accessible routes to the building's common areas, adequate accessible parking, and accommodating restrooms. [ECF Nos. 1, ¶ 38; 1-1]. Because of the denial, Siler incurred additional moving truck and hotel room expenses. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 39].

         Siler hired an attorney, who sent a letter to Defendants advising them that they were violating the FHA. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 40]. Siler also took it upon herself, with the help of her family and assistant, to move into the condo regardless of the denial. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 41].

         As she was moving in, Siler encountered an unnamed woman, who identified herself as someone who “used to be on, and continues to help, the Board of Directors.” [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 42, 44]. The woman said that Siler “could not move because there were not any [sic] protectors in the elevator, ” and the woman also took pictures of Siler's belongings and family. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 42-43].

         Two days later, as Siler; her family; her assistant; and her service dog, Minty, were getting in the elevator, they encountered the second Board member who had conducted Siler's rental interview. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 45]. The Board member “shouted at them, saying that Minty could not be in the elevator, ” and prevented Siler's assistant from closing the elevator door. [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 46-47]. Siler explained that Minty was her service animal, to which the Board member responded, “it did not matter.” [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 48-49].

         The next day, Siler noticed that an automatic door opener for the ground floor entrance had been moved to a wall that Siler could not reach. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 50]. Siler also alleges that she “and her personal aide continue to be harassed regarding their use and enjoyment of the premises.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 51].

         Approximately one month after these incidents, Abbott House, Inc.'s attorney sent a letter to Siler's attorney “apolog[izing] for any prior miscommunication regarding the approval of your client Ms. Siler as a tenant.” [ECF Nos. 1, ¶ 52; 1-2]. The letter then says that “[t]he Board found no legal or factual basis for denial of your client, despite any prior communications.” Id.

         The letter next addresses Minty, saying that “it has been reported that your client has a large dog which frequently utilizes our building's elevator.” [ECF No. 1-2]. The letter claims that the Condominium's By-Laws do not permit pets of more than 25 pounds and does not allow those pets to enter the elevator or lobby. [ECF Nos. 1, ¶ 53; 1-2]. The letter then proposes “a reasonable accommodation” to Siler: “the Board of Directors will permit Ms. Siler and her pet to utilize the building's elevator as long as the pet is wearing a leash.” [ECF Nos. 1, ¶ 53; 1-2]. But “Siler's pet, ” the letter continues, “is not allowed in the elevator or lobby if the pet is being walked by any guest, assistant, agent or employee of Ms. Siler unless Ms. Siler is actually present in the elevator with them at the time.” Id.

         Siler alleges that “[t]here is no basis for such limitation of [her] use and enjoyment of the premises.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 53]. Siler also characterizes the restrictions proposed in the letter as nonsensical and as lacking any purpose or reason. [ECF No. 1, ¶ 68].

         Siler further alleges that Defendants' actions caused her, and continue to cause her, “irreparable loss and injury, ” which includes “humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, and deprivation of her right to equal housing opportunities regardless of her disability.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 54]. Siler adds that she also suffered actual damages, including “unexpected and unnecessary moving truck and hotel rental fees.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 54].

         Siler's Complaint alleges six counts. The first four counts raise claims under the FHA and its Florida equivalent for (1) denial of housing (Count I), (2) failure to reasonably accommodate (Count II), (3) discrimination in the terms and conditions of housing (Count III), and (4) retaliation (Count IV), although this last claim is only under the FHA.[1] Siler's last two claims are for intentional interference with a contractual relationship (Count V) and with intentional interference with an advantageous business relationship (Count VI).

         Under Counts I and II, apart from asking for damages, Siler requests declaratory and injunctive relief in the wherefore clauses. Specifically, she asks the Court to “declare that the actions of the Defendants violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act [] by discriminating against persons with disabilities” and to award her “injunctive relief to prohibit such discriminatory actions, and extensive training on the requirements of the fair housing act[.]” [ECF No. 1, pp. 8-10].

         II. Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claim” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” Fed.R.Civ.p. 8(a). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides defendants an opportunity to quickly dispose of complaints ...

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