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DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly Properties Inc.

April 8, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge


Dear Counsel:

This matter comes before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by Defendants David M. Connolly, Dana Ayala, and Dania Molina (collectively "Defendants"). There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count I of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") is GRANTED.


Defendants manage multiple rental apartment complexes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Pl.'s SAC ¶ 22; Dft.'s Br. 5). Plaintiffs DelRio-Mocci, Elliott, Bolmer, and Sheppard ("Plaintiffs") are present or former tenants of various Plainfield, NJ buildings run by Defendants (Pl.'s SAC ¶¶ 14-17) . Plaintiff Bolmer ("Plaintiff" or "Bolmer"), the sole plaintiff bringing Count I, has resided at Defendants' Pingry Arms building since February 2004, before the building was run by Defendants (Pl.'s SAC ¶ 16). Plaintiffs allege that the manner in which Defendants operate their rental real estate business violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), the Federal Fair Housing Act ("FFHA"), the New Jersey Fair Housing Act ("NJFHA"), and the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Act ("NJCEA") (Pl.'s SAC ¶ 1).

Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants actively seek out illegal aliens as prospective tenants because their immigration status makes them easy to exploit. (Pl.'s SAC ¶ 4). The SAC asserts that Defendants believe illegal aliens are more inclined to accept sub-standard housing conditions, more willing to pay higher rents for apartments in disrepair, and less likely to report housing code violations to the authorities (Pl.'s SAC ¶ 7). As a result of renting to illegal aliens, Plaintiffs allege, Defendants are able to allow slum-like conditions to proliferate in their buildings without having to offer commensurate reductions in rent.*fn1

Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants engage in discriminatory housing practices, segregating their apartment buildings according to impermissible criteria such as race, national origin, immigration status, and source of income. (Pl.'s SAC ¶ 23). The alleged purpose of this segregation is to prevent tenants of different racial and ethnic backgrounds from interacting with each other, which Defendants supposedly believe will lead to fighting between the groups and attract the attention of the authorities. According to Plaintiffs, "by segregating illegal aliens and U.S. citizen tenant groups, [Defendants] decreased the risk of unwelcome investigations or enforcement-related visits to [the] properties by immigration agents, police officers, housing inspectors, or social agency personnel," which could lead to the discovery of the illegal alien tenants (Pl's SAC ¶ 30).

Plaintiffs filed this suit in June 2008 seeking actual, compensatory, and punitive damages for FFHA, NJFHA, and NJCEA violations, treble damages for RICO violations, an injunction against Defendants from perpetrating further racketeering activity, equitable relief to remove the effects of existing housing discrimination and prevent it in the future, and attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiffs amended their complaint twice, filing the SAC in December 2008.

On December 22, 2008, Defendants filed this Motion to Dismiss Count I of Plaintiffs' SAC, the count alleging a RICO violation, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In short, Defendants allege that Count I of the SAC does not state a RICO violation and therefore fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Plaintiff Bolmer opposed Defendants' motion. Additionally, various public interest groups moved for leave to file and filed an amicus brief supporting the contention that Plaintiff failed to state a RICO violation. The motion was fully briefed on January 28, 2009.


A. Standard of Review

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b), all allegations in the complaint must be taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc., v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court may take into account only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). If, after viewing the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it appears that no relief could be granted "under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations," a court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).

Although a complaint does not need to contain detailed factual allegations, "the 'grounds' of [the plaintiff's] 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level. See id. at 1964-65. Furthermore, although a court must view the allegations as true in a motion to dismiss, it is "not compelled to accept ...

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