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Rafat Azzam v. Rightway Development Inc.

June 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beryl A. Howell United States District Judge


"A man's house is his castle," even if others do not perceive it as such. In this unusual case, Plaintiff Rafat Azzam alleges that one day he returned to his house to find that his house and its contents had vanished entirely. The plaintiff alleges that a few months after purchasing a new house in the District of Columbia, he arrived at his property to find only an empty lot where his house had previously stood. The plaintiff brought this lawsuit seeking to hold three defendants liable for unlawfully demolishing his house: the bank from which the plaintiff purchased the property; the property management company that allegedly managed the property for the bank; and the demolition company that allegedly razed the house. The property management company -- Defendant Safeguard Properties, LLC -- has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint against it. For the reasons explained below, Safeguard's motion to dismiss is denied.*fn1


The following facts are alleged in the Amended Complaint and assumed to be true for the purposes of resolving the motion now before the Court.

On April 29, 2010, Plaintiff Rafat Azzam purchased real property located at 1053 44th Street, NE, Washington, D.C. from Defendant CitiMortgage, Inc., a company which provides mortgage services. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 11, 17. The property included a two-story house (the "House"). Id. ¶¶ 11, 17. The deed conveying the property in fee simple from CitiMortgage to Azzam, dated April 29, 2010, was recorded on August 19, 2010 in the office of the Washington, D.C. Recorder of Deeds. Id. ¶ 19. While Azzam waited for permits allowing him to begin renovating the House, he lived elsewhere, but he visited the House on numerous occasions and moved personal property, worth between $15,000 and $20,000, into the House. Id. ¶¶ 20, 21.

On October 21, 2010, Azzam went to check on his property. Much to his surprise and dismay, he arrived to find that the House, along with all of its contents, had vanished.*fn2 Id. ¶ 22. A local mail carrier told Azzam that a work crew had razed the House around the first week of October 2010. Id. ¶ 25. On the fence around the empty lot where Azzam's house once stood, there was a sign that read: "Rightway Development." Id. ¶ 23.

Upon contacting Rightway's headquarters, Azzam was told that "the bank" had instructed Rightway to raze the House.*fn3 Id. ¶ 26. Azzam apparently understood "the bank" to refer to CitiMortgage or its agents.

According to the Amended Complaint, CitiMortgage engaged Safeguard Properties, LLC to provide property management services for CitiMortgage in the District of Columbia. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5. Safeguard, in turn, engaged Rightway Development, Inc. to provide construction, demolition, and development services. Id. ¶¶ 3, 4. Azzam alleges that Defendants Rightway, Safeguard, and CitiMortgage filed or caused to be filed an application to raze the House with the Washington, D.C. Permit Operations Division on October 21, 2009, and ultimately carried out the demolition of the House in October 2010 -- despite the fact that CitiMortgage had sold the House to Azzam in the interim. Id. ¶¶ 17, 27.

As a result of these events, Azzam alleges that he has been permanently deprived of the use, possession, and enjoyment of the House and the personal property he had moved into the House. Id. ¶ 28. Azzam claims that the destruction of his house caused him severe emotional distress, severe major depression, difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, loss of capacity of enjoyment of life, and a difficulty remaining focused on tasks. Id. ¶ 29. He has also isolated himself from others and lost interest in pursuing his education. Id. These harms have required Azzam to seek medical care and to take medications. Id.

Less than a week after he discovered the razing of his house, on October 25, 2010, Azzam filed a pro se Complaint against Rightway Development, Inc. in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. With the assistance of counsel, he then filed the Amended Complaint on February 22, 2011, naming Safeguard Properties, LLC and CitiMortgage, Inc. as additional defendants. Defendants CitiMortgage and Safeguard removed the action to this Court based on diversity of citizenship on March 24, 2011.

Defendants Rightway and CitiMortgage filed answers to the Amended Complaint. Defendant Safeguard filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint on March 31, 2011. Safeguard's motion is presently before the Court.


A. Standard of Review for Motion to Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff need only plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and to "nudge[ ] [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129

S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Instead, the complaint must plead facts that are more than "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability; "the plaintiff [must plead] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

B. Safeguard's Arguments

Azzam's Amended Complaint brings claims against Safeguard for "at least trespass, conversion, infliction of emotional distress, and negligence . . . ." Am. Compl. ΒΆ 51. Additionally, ...

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