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Bell v. The United States Department of Housing

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 1, 2017

JUDY A. BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNITED STATE DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT; THE CITY OF PASSAIC, NJ; PASSAIC HOUSING AUTHORITY OF PASSAIC; COMMUNITY HEALTH LAW PROJECT OF BLOOMFIELD, NJ; CALDWELL BANKER REAL ESTATE OF CLIFTON, NJ; SALVATION ARMY GOOD SAMARITAN INN; SISTER CATH HOMELESS SHELTER FOR WOMEN; N.J. DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS, PATERSON, N.J. Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN McNULTY., U.S.D.J.

         At the heart of the Complaint of this pro se plaintiff, Ms. Bell, is a claim that she was discriminatorily denied public housing. Now before the Court are multiple motions to dismiss the complaint (ECF nos. 21, 24, 37, 38, 39), to which the plaintiff has not responded. Because the allegedly wrongful denials took place in 1989 (at the earliest) and 2009 (at the latest), this action, filed in 2016, must be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., provides for the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const. Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014). Federal Rule of Procedure 8(a) requires that the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         The motions to dismiss in this case invoke the statute of limitations. That is ordinarily an affirmative defense, but it may be the subject of motion to dismiss where "the time alleged in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations." Fried v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., 850 F.3d 590, 604 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014)).

         As always, where a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the complaint is "to be liberally construed, " and, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007).

         B. Analysis

         The Complaint in this case ("Cplt.", ECF no. 1) was filed on July 19, 2016. It was accompanied by a Motion ("Motion", ECF no.2), which I will consider as being part of the Complaint.

         The Complaint alleges claims of age or disability discrimination under the "Civil Rights Act of 1967 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, " based on the denial of the plaintiffs application for public housing. It seeks $900 million in damages. (See Motion, passim.)

         Records attached to the Motion suggest that the plaintiff suffers from a number of medical conditions, was injured in 1989 and reinjured in 1998, and is receiving Social Security disability benefits. (ECF no. 2-2) Also attached is a copy of a dismissed housing discrimination complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. ("HUD Complaint", ECF no. 2-3, pp. 1-6)

         The defendants' motions assert that the Complaint is untimely, so I must identify the relevant statute of limitations. From the context, I believe that the plaintiff intends to assert claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (prohibiting discrimination in federally assisted programs), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability). Claims under Title VI borrow the two-year New Jersey statute of limitations for personal injury actions. See Thomas v. Advance Housing, Inc., 475 F.App'x 405, 406-07 (3d Cir. 2012) (Title VI claims have same two-year statute of limitations as personal injury claims in New Jersey); Yip v. Union Cty. Coll., No. 08-3207, 2009 WL 236949, at *2 (3d Cir. Feb. 3, 2009); Rose v. Seton Hall Univ., No. CV 13-7797, 2015 WL 9049438, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2015) ("Claims under Title VI are subject to a two-year statute of limitations"). Claims under the Rehabilitation Act have been held subject to either a state two-year or a federal four-year statute of limitations.[1]

         According to the Complaint, the acts of discrimination occurred on January 27, 1989, and in "June 200." (Cplt § III.B) The latter seems to inadvertently omit the last digit of the year; on that theory, the latest it could be is 2009. The administrative complaint attached to the Motion alleges that the discriminatory denials of housing took place in "1989, 1998, 1999[2] an[d] the year of 2006." (HUD Cplt. § 6a) As for the latest date, then, probably 2006 was intended; given the most liberal construction, however, the Complaint alleges an act of discrimination that took place, at the latest, in 2009.[3]

         This complaint was not filed until July 19, 2016, well beyond the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the defendants' ...


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