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Buesgens v. Brown

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


June 11, 2008

MICHAEL BUESGENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLES BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On November 15, 2006, the plaintiff*fn1 , proceeding pro se, filed his Complaint in this action, inartfully alleging that the defendant, Charles E. Brown, violated, inter alia, the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act, and 42 U.S.C. §1983 ( 2000).*fn2 Complaint ("Compl.") at 15-27. Although the plaintiff alleges violations of these several statutes, the plaintiff does not set forth the specific sections of the statutes upon which he bases his claims.*fn3 The plaintiff also alleges other claims against the defendant that are incoherent.*fn4 Id.

Currently before this Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss, filed on March 19, 2007, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) (lack of personal jurisdiction).*fn5

Defendant's Motion To Dismiss, or in the Alternative Motion to Transfer ("Def.'s Mot.").*fn6 For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion must be granted.

I. Standards of Review

Personal jurisdiction "'is an essential element of the jurisdiction of a district . . . court,' without which the court is 'powerless to proceed to an adjudication.'" Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co. , 526 U.S. 574, 584 (1999). A plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, and must allege specific facts on which personal jurisdiction is based; he cannot rely on merely conclusory allegations. See Mwani v. Bin Laden , 417 F.3d 1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y , 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990). Accordingly, the "plaintiff must allege specific acts connecting the defendant with the forum." See Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors , 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001). When considering whether personal jurisdiction exists, the Court need not treat all of the plaintiff's allegations as true. Atlantigas Corp. v. NiSource, Inc. , 290 F. Supp. 2d 34, 42 (D.D.C. 2003). Instead, the Court "may receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist it in determining the jurisdictional facts." United States v. Philip Morris Inc. , 116 F. Supp. 2d 116, 120 n. 4 (D.D.C. 2000); see also Capital Bank Int'l, Ltd. v. Citigroup, Inc. , 276 F. Supp. 2d 72, 74 (D.D.C. 2003). However, the Court must resolve "factual discrepancies appearing in the record . . . in favor of the plaintiff." Crane , 894 F.2d at 456. But, the "plaintiff cannot aggregate factual allegations concerning multiple defendants in order to demonstrate personal jurisdiction over any individual defendant." Atlantigas Corp. , 290 F. Supp. 2d at 42.

II. Background*fn7

This action arises out of the plaintiff's eviction from the Falcon Ridge Apartments located in Austin, Texas. Pl.'s Opp'n, Exhibit ("Ex") 4*fn8 (Letter from Charles E. Brown to Michael Buesgens dated December 15, 2005) ("Warning Letter"). The plaintiff had been a resident of Falcon Ridge Apartments and defendant Brown is an attorney who at one time represented the apartment complex in the legal proceedings surrounding the plaintiff's eviction from the complex. Id. On December 15, 2005, defendant Brown sent the plaintiff a letter advising him to stop harassing the management personnel of the apartment complex and its residents because the plaintiff was allegedly being disturbed by another resident's dog. Id. at 1. Defendant Brown further advised the plaintiff that (1) "the Austin Police Department [had] investigated [the plaintiff's] claims and [had] not found that [his] neighbor's dog [was] causing excessive noise as [the plaintiff had] alleged," id., (2) "[t]he [possession of the] dog [was] within the regulations and policies adopted by [the Falcon Ridge Apartments]," id., (3) "[the apartment management's decision to] allow[ ] [the plaintiff's] neighbor to have a pet d[id] not constitute discrimination," id. at 2, and (4) that if he did not cease harassing the "management and other residents and other disruptive behavior immediately [he] w[ould] be evicted," id. Further, defendant Brown informed the plaintiff that he was "a valued resident at Falcon Ridge Apartments", id., and made several "proposals to [the plaintiff] in an effort to settle [the] matter to [the plaintiff's] satisfaction," id. at 2. Defendant Brown offered the plaintiff three options: (1) the plaintiff could terminate his lease early without penalty and pay rent until he vacated the property; (2) the plaintiff could move to another unit within the complex, possibly a third floor unit, so that he would not have anyone living above him; or (3) the plaintiff could stay in his assigned apartment and the neighbor living above the plaintiff would be moved the following month, January 2006. Id. at 2.

Thereafter, on December 21, 2005, defendant Brown sent the plaintiff a notice to vacate, advising the plaintiff that his "rights of occupancy and possession of the [p]remises [were being] terminated" because he was in violation of paragraph 20 (prohibited conduct) of his lease and in default pursuant to paragraph 32 of the lease. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 6 (Notice to Vacate from Charles Brown to Michael Buesgens dated December 21, 2005) ("Notice to Vacate") at 1. The plaintiff was advised to "vacate the [p]remises on or before 11:59:59 p.m. on the 24th day of December, 2005." Id. Defendant Brown further informed the plaintiff that his "liability under the [l]ease for rent and other charges [he] [possibly] ow[ed] ha[d] not been terminated." Id. at 1. In response, the plaintiff sent defendant Brown a letter requesting reasonable accommodations. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 7 (Request for reasonable accommodation dated December 22, 2005). The plaintiff advised defendant Brown that his "letter [was] a formal Request for Reasonable Accommodation under the Fair Housing Act." Id. ¶ 1. The plaintiff also informed defendant Brown that "[s]ince October of 2005, [he] [had] made written and verbal complaints to management about the loud dog that live[d] in the apartment above [him]." Id. ¶ 2. The plaintiff indicated that he is "disabled and [is] unable to peacefully enjoy [his] apartment due to the dog's loudness aggravating [his] disability." Id. Further, the plaintiff requested that defendant Brown rescind the Notice to Vacate that [he] received on Wednesday, December 21, 2005, and allow [him] to continue living in [his] apartment." Id. ¶ 3. The plaintiff proclaimed that if his request was not granted, "he [was] prepared to seek enforcement of [his] rights under the Fair Housing Act . . ., which may include filing a complaint with the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development and/or filing a civil lawsuit." Id. ¶ 5. The plaintiff subsequently filed a housing discrimination complaint pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. ¶¶ 3600-3620 (2000), with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") on December 28, 2005. The plaintiff alleged that "the respondent coerced, intimidated, threatened or interfered with a person in the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights or assisting another in enjoying such rights." Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 9 (Housing Administrative Discrimination Complaint dated December 28, 2005.) The plaintiff further alleged that Mandy Rogers, who was being represented by defendant Brown, failed to provide reasonable accommodations for the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 3,6.

Falcon Ridge Apartments then filed suit against the plaintiff in Travis Country, Texas and the plaintiff received an eviction citation on December 30, 2005. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 13 (Eviction Citation issued by Travis County, Texas).*fn9 The City of Austin's Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office declined the plaintiff's request to conduct an investigation of his eviction because legal action had been initiated and the trial had already commenced. Id., Ex. 39 (Letter from John Benavides, Lead Investigator for City of Austin, Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office to the defendant dated February 17, 2006); id., Ex. 40 (Letter from Benavides to the plaintiff dated February 21, 2006). Subsequently, the Fort Worth Regional Office of HUD advised the plaintiff on April 21, 2006, that it "concur[ed] with [the City of Austin's Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office's] determination to administratively close the investigation based upon [the] fact that trial [had] begun." Id., Ex. 41 (Letter from Garry Sweeney, Director of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fort Worth Regional Office, to the plaintiff dated April 21, 2006). Thereafter, Kim Kendrick, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity of HUD in Washington, D.C., informed the plaintiff that "[she] was in receipt of [his] letters of May 31, 2006, and June 6, 2006, wherein [the plaintiff] allege[d] misconduct by Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity officials." Id., Ex. 42 (Letter from Kim Kendrick, Assistant Secretary of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity of HUD in Washington, D.C., to the plaintiff dated July 28, 2006). Specifically, she informed the plaintiff that in response to his complaint that "FHA Statutes and HUD Regulations [were] being ignored and omitted by [Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity officials]" id. ¶1, including, but not limited to, Garry Sweeney, Milton Turner, Turner Russell, and Joe F. Castillo, "the Department [had] reviewed and assessed the performance of the named [HUD] personnel in the conduct of their duties to ensure that their actions [were] in compliance with HUD's guidelines, procedures, and practices for misconducting inquiries and investigations under Title VIII of the Fair Housing Act, as amended,"id. ¶2. The plaintiff was further advised that this review had revealed "that there is no evidence to suggest HUD personnel acted improperly regarding the processing of [the plaintiff's] complaint." Id. In addition, Ms. Kendrick advised the plaintiff that his "decision to move [his] case to state court required that the City of Austin, Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office close [his] case." Id. ¶3. Thus, "the commencement of trial prevented further action by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity." Id.

The plaintiff filed his Complaint in this case on November 15, 2006, against defendant Brown and approximately thirty-eight other individuals alleging that they violated, inter alia, the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

III. Legal Analysis

The defendant asserts that the plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because he "does not meet the statutory requirements sufficient to permit this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over him either through conduct or through an enduring relationship" with the District of Columbia. Def's Mem. at 2. Specifically the defendant contends that "[a]ll of the [alleged] factual statements related to [him], even if taken as true, occurred entirely and solely within the State of Texas," id., and that the "[p]lalintiff fails to allege that any of the incidents giving rise to his claims against [defendant Brown] occurred in the District of Columbia," id. at 3. Therefore, the defendant contends that "[i]f this Court were to exercise personal jurisdiction over [him], it would violate the due process rights . . . guaranteed to [him] by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution." Id. In his opposition, the plaintiff contends that this Court has personal jurisdiction over defendant Brown because: (1) "the attorneys . . . consented to this Court[' ]s personal jurisdiction when they interfered and participated in the wrongful termination of [the] plaintiff[']s . . . HUD Complaint filed [on] December 28, 2005", Pl's Opp'n at 20, (2) the plaintiff "has made sufficient contacts with the leaders of HUD at Washington, DC to establish this Court's venue", id. at 7, and (3) "Washington, DC is the home of these laws and regulations [and] Texas is not," id. at 9.

The "traditional approach" followed by courts in this Circuit to determine whether there is a sufficient connection between a defendant and the District of Columbia for the purpose of assessing whether a court in this jurisdiction may exercise personal jurisdiction is to "ask[ ] first whether there [is] an applicable long-arm statute that would authorize service on the defendant[ ], and then whether the application of such a statute would comply with the demands of due process." Mwani v. Bin Laden , 417 F.3d 1, 8 (D.C. Cir. 2005). This latter requirement places the onus on the plaintiff to demonstrate that there are " 'minimum contacts' between the defendant and the forum establishing that 'the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.' " GTE New Media Servs. Inc. v. BellSouth Corp. , 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal quotation omitted)). "Under the 'minimum contacts' standard, courts must insure that 'the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.'" Id. (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson , 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)).

Here, the plaintiff cannot satisfy the first requirement to establish personal jurisdiction, let alone the second. The District of Columbia's long-arm statute applies in this case due to the absence of any federal long-arm statute. See, e.g. , Ibrahim v. District of Columbia , 357 F. Supp. 2d 187, 192-93 (D.D.C. 2004) (determining whether personal jurisdiction could be exercised over defendants outside the District of Columbia in § 1983 suit under the District of Columbia's long-arm statute); Charles v. Kelly , 790 F. Supp. 344, 348 (D.D.C. 1992) (same). That statute provides in pertinent part that [a] District of Columbia court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a claim for relief arising from the person's(1) transacting any business in the District of Columbia; (2) contracting to supply services in the District of Columbia; (3) causing tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission in the District of Columbia; (4) causing tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission outside the District of Columbia if he regularly does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed, or services rendered, in the District of Columbia; (5) having an interest in, using, or possessing real property in the District of Columbia; (6) contracting to insure or act as surety for or on any person, property, or risk, contract, obligation, or agreement located, executed, or to be performed within the District of Columbia at the time of the contracting, unless the parties otherwise provide in writing; or (7) marital or parent and child relationship in the District of Columbia. . . .

D.C. Code Ann. § 13-423(a) (2001). The plaintiff has not met his burden of establishing that the defendant falls into any of these seven categories. As the defendant correctly notes in his motion, he will be forced to defend a suit "in a jurisdiction hundreds of miles from his residence . . . ", Def's Mem. at 5, absent anything in the limited record before the Court suggesting that the defendant has ever "transact[ed] any business in the District of Columbia," D.C. Code Ann. § 13-423(a)(1), "contract[ed] to supply services in the District of Columbia," id. at § 13-423(a)(2); see also Def's Mot. at 4-5, "contract[ed] to insure or act as a surety" for anyone or any agreement "located, executed, or to be performed within the District of Columbia," id. at § 13-423(a)(6); see also Def's Mot. at 4-5, held "an interest in, us[es], or possess[es] real property in the District of Columbia," id. at § 13-423(a)(5); see also Def's Mot. at 4-5, or had a "marital or parent and child relationship in the District of Columbia," id. at § 13-423(a)(7); see also Def's Mot. at 4-5. And, even assuming the Court could construe the plaintiff's allegations as stating a claim for "tortious injure[ies]," the defendant accurately contends that such injuries are not alleged to have occurred in the District of Columbia as required by the District of Columbia long-arm statute. Id. at §§ 13-423(a)(3), 13-423(a)(4); see also Def's Mem. at 4. Instead, the defendant notes that "[t]he [p]laintiff's allegations regarding the [d]efendant . . . occurred solely within the State of Texas, Travis County to be precise." Def's Mem. at 4.

Even if the District of Columbia long-arm statute permitted this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant, doing so based on the record before the Court would violate due process. See GTE New Media Servs. Inc. , 199 F.3d at 1347 ("Even when the literal terms of the long-arm statute have been satisfied, a plaintiff must still show that the exercise of personal jurisdiction is within the permissible bounds of the Due Process Clause."). The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "protects an individual's liberty interest in not being subject to the binding judgments of a forum with which he has established no meaningful contacts, ties, or relations," Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 471-72 (1985) (internal quotation omitted), "[b]y requiring that individuals have 'fair warning that a particular activity may subject them to the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign,'" id. at 472 (internal quotation omitted). "[T]his 'fair warning' requirement is satisfied if the defendant has 'purposefully directed' his activities at residents of the forum . . . and the litigation results from alleged injuries that 'arise out of or relate to' those activities." Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted). Therefore, a plaintiff must show "minimum contacts" between the defendant and the forum establishing that "the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). "Under the 'minimum contacts' standard, courts must insure that 'the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.'" GTE New Media Servs. Inc. , 199 F.3d at 1347 (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)).

In this case, there is no evidence that the defendant "purposefully directed" any activities at residents of the District of Columbia. Nor is there any evidence that the defendant has any "contacts, ties, or relation", Burger Kings Corp., 471 U.S. at 472, to the District of Columbia other than the filing of the plaintiff's lawsuit. However, the plaintiff has not established that the alleged acts that provide the basis for the filing of this action occurred in the District of Columbia or that the defendant maintains a residence or place of business within this jurisdiction. Aside from identifying defendant Brown and where he resides, the plaintiff's pleadings does absolutely nothing to show a relationship between his allegations and claims against defendant Brown and the District of Columbia. Thus, the plaintiff has not shown that the defendant has had minimum contacts with this jurisdiction. Accordingly, exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant would not comport with the fundamental notions of " 'fair play and substantial justice' "as required by the Due Process Clause.*fn10 Id. at 477 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. , 326 U.S. at 320). The defendant's motion to dismiss must therefore be granted.

IV. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing analysis, the defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) must be GRANTED .*fn11

SO ORDERED .


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