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Ring v. Ciega

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

November 7, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Defendant Boca Ciega Yacht Club, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint and Strike Jury Trial Demand (Doc. # 48), filed on October 16, 2019. Plaintiff Samantha Ring filed a response in opposition (Doc. # 53) on October 25, 2019. For the reasons explained below, BCYC's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Allegations of the Second Amended Complaint

         According to the Second Amended Complaint, Ring is an avid sailor and joined Boca Ciega Yacht Club (“BCYC”) as a member in 2007. (Doc. # 47 at ¶ 6). Ring alleges that she is “highly allergic” to bee stings and sunflower seeds and suffers from severe anxiety with panic attacks. (Id. at ¶ 4). So, in 2015, Ring acquired a dog named Piper to assist her with her disabilities. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 9-11). Ring alleges that Piper is a service animal under the ADA. (Id. at ¶ 8).

         In July 2018, Ring provided “medical documentation of her disability-related need to be accompanied by Piper” to BCYC Commodore Larry Brown. (Id. at ¶ 17). Yet, in December 2018, Ring alleges that she received a “written reprimand” from BCYC for being in the clubhouse with Piper. (Id. at ¶ 41). BCYC informed Ring that it was a private club and requested that she cease bringing Piper to BCYC premises as it was against club rules. (Id. at ¶ 20; Doc. # 47-3).

         On January 2, 2019, [1] Ring filed a signed and verified Charge of Discrimination with the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights (the “PCOHR”), alleging that BCYC had discriminated against her on the basis of her disability by failing to allow her service animal on BCYC's premises. (Doc. # 47 at ¶ 42; Doc. # 48-1).

         Ring alleges that BCYC began to retaliate against her for filing the complaint with PCOHR, including fining her for bringing Piper to the clubhouse, “[t]argeting” Ring for emergency suspension of her membership, suspending Ring's membership “for reasons that were wholly pretextual, ” and lobbying other BCYC members to vote for Ring's expulsion. (Doc. # 47 at ¶ 44). BCYC expelled Ring in April 2019. (Id. at ¶ 44(i); Doc. # 47-6; Doc. # 48 at 2).

         B. Administrative History

         As previously noted, Ring filed a formal Charge of Discrimination against BCYC with the PCOHR on January 2, 2019, alleging that BCYC discriminated against her on the basis of her disability by refusing to allow her service animal into the clubhouse. (Doc. # 48-1). Ring amended her administrative complaint in April 2019 to add charges of retaliation. (Doc. # 47 at ¶ 83; Doc. # 47-7 at 1).

         According to an investigative report dated May 29, 2019, the PCOHR investigated Ring's claims of discrimination against BCYC (the “Investigative Report”). (Doc. # 47-7). At the end of the Investigative Report, under “Conclusions, ” the report's author wrote that, “based upon the available evidence, there is reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful act of discrimination based on disability . . . and retaliation has occurred.” (Id. at 15).

         On June 5, 2019, the PCOHR issued a letter of intent to BCYC's counsel, explaining that the agency had completed its review of the final investigative report in Ring's complaint. (Doc. # 27 at 70).[2] The letter stated that “a determination will be issued that there is reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination has occurred. Therefore, this letter is an offer of a final opportunity for you to engage in conciliation to resolve this matter.” (Id.).

         The letter warned that if conciliation efforts were not successful, “a charge of discrimination will be formally entered and a determination of Reasonable Cause will be issued.” (Id.). The PCOHR would then forward the investigative file to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings with a request to schedule an administrative hearing. (Id.).

         It appears that the parties did attempt a conciliation on August 2, 2019, that was not successful. (Doc. # 47 at ¶ 87; Doc. # 38-1). On August 7, 2019, Ring's administrative complaint went before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (the “DOAH”). (Doc. # 42-1). On August 20, 2019, Ring filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of her case before the DOAH. (Doc. # 42-2). Accordingly, the administrative law judge closed Ring's case before the DOAH on August 23, 2019, and “relinquished” jurisdiction to the PCOHR. (Doc. # 42-3).

         C. Procedural History

         Ring initiated the instant action in federal court on March 29, 2019, asserting claims against BCYC for failure to make reasonable modifications and retaliation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA). (Doc. # 1). On April 19, 2019, BCYC answered the original complaint. (Doc. # 12).

         On June 25, 2019, Ring filed an Amended Complaint, again raising a claim under Title III of the ADA for failure to make reasonable modifications (Count I) and a claim for retaliation under the ADA (Count II), both against BCYC. (Doc. # 27 at 13-18). Ring also added a claim against the City of Gulfport for allegedly violating Title II of the ADA (Count III). (Id. at 19-24). And she added a claim against BCYC for discrimination in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) (Count IV). (Id. at 24-25).

         On July 9, 2019, BCYC filed a motion to dismiss Count IV of the Amended Complaint and strike Ring's demand for a jury trial. (Doc. # 28). On July 23, 2019, Ring responded to the motion and filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of her claims against the City of Gulfport, Count IV, and her demand for a jury trial. (Doc. ## 29, 30).

         On July 24, 2019, this Court dismissed the claims against the City of Gulfport without prejudice and dismissed Count IV and Ring's jury-trial demand without prejudice. (Doc. # 31). The Court then denied BCYC's motion to dismiss as moot. (Doc. # 32).

         On August 7, 2019, BCYC filed a motion for reconsideration of this Court's July 24, 2019, orders, which this Court granted in part. (Doc. ## 33, 46). Recognizing that Ring had used the incorrect procedural mechanism to amend her complaint, the Court set aside its July 24, 2019, orders but, given that BCYC did not file a response in opposition to Ring's motion to file a Second Amended Complaint, granted Ring leave to amend her complaint. (Doc. # 46).

         Ring filed her Second Amended Complaint on October 8, 2019. (Doc. # 47). Based on the allegations described above, Ring now brings four claims against BCYC: failure to make reasonable modifications under the ADA (Count I); retaliation in violation of the ADA (Count II); discrimination in violation of the FCRA (Count III); and “negligence per se” for violation of Fla. Stat. § 413.08 (Count IV). (Id. at 7-14). Ring seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and seeks damages with respect to Counts III and IV. (Id. at 9-10, 13, 14, 15-16). She has also demanded a jury trial. (Id. at 17).

         On October 16, 2019, BCYC moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint in its entirety. (Doc. # 48). On October 25, 2019, Ring responded in opposition. (Doc. # 53). This Court heard oral argument on the Motion on October 28, 2019. (Doc. # 54). The Motion is now ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Federal courts have limited jurisdiction and therefore only possess power authorized by Article III of the United States Constitution and statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto. See Bender v. Wiliamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986). Thus, federal courts cannot consider claims for which they lack subject-matter jurisdiction. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for a party, by motion, to assert the defense of “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). This defense may be raised at any time. See Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Grp., L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 571 (2004). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2010). Where, as here, a defendant raises a facial attack to the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction, the issue becomes whether the complaint sufficiently alleges a basis of subject-matter jurisdiction. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         When considering a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6), this Court accepts as true all the allegations in the complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004). Further, this Court favors the plaintiff with all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint. Stephens v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1571, 1573 (11th Cir. 1990). However, the Supreme Court explains that:

While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). In addition, courts are not “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Furthermore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         III. Analysis

         In its Motion, BCYC raises three arguments for why the Second Amended Complaint should be dismissed. First, BCYC argues that Ring has no standing to assert claims for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA. (Doc. # 48 at 1, 5-8). Second, BCYC claims that Ring's FCRA claim is due to be dismissed with prejudice because (1) Ring has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under that statute, and (2) BCYC does not qualify as a place of public accommodation under the FCRA. (Id. at 1, 8-16). Relatedly, BCYC maintains that Fla. Stat. § 413.08 does not expand the definition of “public accommodation” into the “narrow confines” of the FCRA. (Id. at 16-17, 20-21). Finally, BCYC submits that Fla. Stat. § 413.08 does not provide a private right of action. (Id. at 1, 17-20).

         A. ...

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