United States District Court, D. New Jersey
McNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
motion to dismiss a counterclaim and strike affirmative
defenses arises from defendant Hillside Village's
aggressive litigation posture with respect to its elderly,
disabled tenant of 51 years, plaintiff Sandra Smith. In a
prior Opinion ("Op.", ECF no. 10) denying
Hillside's motion to dismiss, I summarized the background
and procedural history of the case. As I write for the
parties, familiarity with that Opinion is assumed.
Smith, 78 years old, moved into her rent-controlled apartment
at Hillside Village 51 years ago. At some time, she became
depressed and developed hoarding disorder, a recognized
mental disorder. As a result her apartment became extremely
cluttered. Hillside, Ms. Smith's landlord, discovered
that conditions in Ms. Smith's apartment had deteriorated
to a shocking degree. Ms. Smith was immediately removed from
2015, in state court, Hillside filed an action under the
wrong statute, New Jersey's Unlawful Detainer Act. This
action was referred to in my prior Opinion as the Detainer
Matter [Hillside Village v. Sandra Smith, Docket no.
DC-10607-15 ( N.J.Super. Ct., Law Div., Special Civil Part,
Bergen Co).) Hillside initially (and incorrectly) sought
eviction of Ms. Smith and possession on three days'
confusion ensued. Judge Rosa, improvising, directed Hillside
to file a landlord-tenant action (the LT Matter), a summary
proceeding, in which possession issues would be heard. He
dismissed the invalid claim under the Unlawful Detainer
statute, but kept the Detainer Matter open for the purpose of
later hearing Hillside's claims for damages. Both cases
were tried- the LT matter quickly, and the Detainer Matter
later. On the LT Matter, Hillside prevailed at trial, but on
appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the judgment of
possession in Hillside's favor and stated that it
"expected" Hillside would repair the apartment and
restore Smith's tenancy "promptly." Hillside
did not, however, repair the apartment or restore Smith's
tenancy. After a trial of damages claims in die Detainer
Matter, judgment was entered against Hillside, with
prejudice, for failure of proof on the issue of damages.
filed this federal court Complaint, seeking possession of the
premises and damages. One claim, under the Fair Housing Act
Amendments ("FHA"), is primarily based on
Hillside's refusal to accede to Smith's August 2015
proposal for a reasonable accommodation of her mental
disability, consisting of mental health treatment and an
agreement for monitoring of her apartment by an outside
agency. A second claim is based on the New Jersey Law Against
Answer (ECF no. 12) asserts some twenty-eight affirmative
defenses. (Affirmative Defenses, ECF no. 12 at 8-12) It also
asserts a Counterclaim. The Counterclaim seeks to hold Ms.
Smith liable in damages for breach of the Lease Agreement,
based on damage to the apartment. It also asserts that Ms.
Smith must "indemnify" Hillside for "any and
all sums which [Hillside] may be required to [sic]
in this action, together with attorneys' fees and
costs." (Counterclaim, ECF no. 12 at 12-13)
has filed a motion to dismiss the Counterclaim and to strike
Hillside's Affirmative Defenses. (ECF no. 15) Hillside
has filed responses (ECF nos. 19, 21), and Smith has filed
Replies (ECF nos. 22, 24). For the reasons stated herein, the
motion to dismiss the Counterclaim is granted, but the motion
to strike Affirmative Defenses is denied.
Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim
Res judicata and the claim for breach of the
has moved to dismiss the Counterclaim for failure to state a
claim, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6)
provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in
part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden
of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v.
United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In
deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must take the
allegations of the complaint as true and draw reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231
(3d Cir. 2008) (traditional "reasonable inferences"
principle not undermined by Twombly, see infra).
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a
complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless,
"a plaintiffs 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."
BellAtl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
Thus, 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." Id. at 570; see also Umland v.
PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008).
That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin
to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more
than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
Counterclaim seeks damages based on breach of the Lease.
Essentially, the claim is that Ms. Smith, by allowing
conditions to deteriorate in the apartment, breached the
conditions of the Lease and exposed Hillside to the
substantial cost of cleaning and repairs. Smith's motion
asserts that this claim is barred by res judicata,
because Hillside pursued a similar claim for damages in the
state court Detainer Matter but lost at trial. Hillside
responds that the damages claim in the Detainer Matter and
the breach-of-lease Counterclaim are "separate causes of
action under which the principles of res judicata do
not apply." (Hillside Brf. 5, ECF no. 21)
Matters properly considered on 12(b)(6) motion
a preliminary issue as to what is properly before the Court
on this motion.
contends that because the basis for a res judicata
defense does not appear on the face of the Counterclaim, it
cannot be the basis of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b).
It is true that res judicata, an affirmative
defense, often raises issues of fact. In a proper case,
however, it may be cognizable on a motion to dismiss:
We held in Bethel v. Jendoco Constr. Corp., 570 F.2d
1168, 1174 (3d Cir. 1978), that if a statute of limitations
"bar is not apparent on the face of the complaint, then
it may not afford the basis for a dismissal of the complaint
under Rule 12(b)(6)." This holding applies not only to a
statute of limitations defense, but also to any affirmative
defense raised pursuant to Rule 8(c), including res judicata
and the Entire Controversy Doctrine.
Rycoline Products, Inc. v. C & W Unlimited, 109
F.3d 883, 886 (3d Cir. 1997). Thus res judicata may
be considered on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, where, as here, the
necessary facts are "apparent on the face of the face of
the complaint" and other documents properly considered
on a motion to dismiss.
support of her motion, Smith attaches and cites to public
records, consisting of judicial decisions in the Detainer
Action brought against Smith by Hillside:
1) Transcript of Court's oral decision, Jan. 6, 2016
("Oral Decision"), ECF no. 15-2 at 4;
2) Disposition Form, Jan. 6, 2016 ("Disposition
Form"), ECF no. 15-2 at 14;
3) Letter Decision, Jan.28, 2016 ("Letter
Decision"), ECF no. 15-2 at 18.
records reflect the state court's disposition of what, in
the prior Opinion, I designated "The Detainer
Matter-Phase 2." (Op. 7-8)
court considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is generally
confined to the allegations of the complaint, there are
exceptions to that rule:
"Although phrased in relatively strict terms, we have
declined to interpret this rule narrowly. In deciding motions
under Rule 12(b)(6), courts may consider "documents]
integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint,
" In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig.,114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997) (emphasis in original), or
any "undisputedly authentic document that a defendant
attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the
plaintiffs claims are based on the ...