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Burnett v. Sharma

September 26, 2007

JOYCE BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMAR SHARMA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
JOYCE BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMAR SHARMA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on motions filed on behalf of Amar Sharma and the District of Columbia.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant both defendants' motions.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an African-American woman who sublet a room from Jennifer Renton, to whom defendant Amar Sharma ("Sharma") leased a house at 4801 41st Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. ("the premises"). Plaintiff alleges that, upon Ms. Renton's departure, Sharma refused to sell or to rent her the premises because of her race, and later initiated eviction proceedings against her in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in retaliation for her complaints about the premises' substandard conditions. In addition, she alleges that she was exposed to toxic mold and to high levels of carbon monoxide leaking from a faulty furnace due to Sharma's failure to properly maintain the premises. According to plaintiff, exposure to these substances is the cause of her various permanent physical impairments, including seizures, fatigue, dizziness, impaired memory and neurological problems. Plaintiff alleges that Sharma "would not have been able to deprive [her] of her rights without the aid, benefit, and influence of officials and state actors of the District of Columbia." Plaintiff's Final Amended Complaint and Jury Demand ("Final Amd. Compl.") ¶ 13.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The District of Columbia's Motion to Dismiss

Review of the amended complaint shows that plaintiff brings claims against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I), 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III), 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Count IV), and 42 U.S.C. § 1986 (Count V). The District of Columbia moves to dismiss plaintiff's Final Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that it fails to state claims against it upon which relief can be granted.*fn2 Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant District of Columbia's Motion to Dismiss ("District's Mem.") at 4-10.

1. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)

A complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations. See Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993)). However, a complaint must include "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, __ U.S. __, __, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (citation omitted). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court presumes the truth of the factual allegations of a plaintiff's complaint and liberally construes these allegations in the plaintiff's favor. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002); United States v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2001). These factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, __ U.S. at __, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citations omitted). The Court need not "accept inferences drawn by plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the [C]court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). At this stage of the proceedings, "[t]he issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether [he] is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

a. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1981 Claim

In relevant part, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 provides:

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens.

42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) (emphasis added). "[A] plaintiff cannot state a claim under § 1981 unless [she] has (or would have) rights under the existing (or proposed) contract that [she] wishes to make and enforce. Section 1981 plaintiffs must identify injuries flowing from a racially motivated breach of their own contractual relationship[.]" Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 479-80 (2006). Here, plaintiff alleges, generally, that Sharma, his former counsel, and the District "intentionally discriminated against [her] on the basis of her race, African American." Final Amd. Compl. ¶ 29. The District of Columbia argues that the complaint fails to allege the "identity of an impaired contractual relationship under which the plaintiff has rights." District's Mem. at 4.

Although plaintiff alleges discrimination based on her race, nothing in her complaint even suggests the existence of an actual or proposed contractual agreement involving the District of Columbia. She alleges neither that the District itself failed or refused to enter into a contract with her, that the District interfered with her efforts to make or enforce a contract with another person, nor that the District prevented her from taking or defending a legal action. Rather, it is Sharma who allegedly "refused to sell and/or lease the premises to [her]" and "filed multiple actions for eviction against the plaintiff in order to avoid a contractual relationship with an ...


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