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Chao-Cheng Teng v. Shore Club Hotel Condominiums et al.

April 12, 2012

CHAO-CHENG TENG
v.
SHORE CLUB HOTEL CONDOMINIUMS ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph N. Laplante United States District Judge

SUMMARY ORDER

Chao-Cheng Teng, proceeding pro se, has sued the owner of condominium units in Seabrook, New Hampshire, as well as a number of real estate agents and agencies, claiming that they refused to sell her one of the units, even though she and the owner had entered into a purchase and sale agreement to that effect. She alleges that this amounted to a breach of that agreement and, because it was done on account of her race, a violation of both the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604-05, and 42 U.S.C. § 1982, which prohibits racial discrimination in the sale of property, see Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 413 (1968). As Magistrate Judge McCafferty ruled on her initial review of Teng's complaint under L.R. 4.3(d)(1)(A), Order of Oct. 19, 2011, these federal statutory claims give this court subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question).

Teng's claims against several of the named defendants were dismissed without prejudice after Teng failed to respond to this court's order that she demonstrate that they had been properly served. See Order of Feb. 2, 2012. Two of the remaining defendants, Albert Bellemore, Jr. and Kathy McGregor, have filed separate motions to dismiss Teng's complaint for failure to state a claim. See Fed. R. 12(b)(6). The other two remaining defendants, Pamela Bailey and Coldwell Banker Real Estate, LLC, have filed a motion for a more definite statement. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Teng has not filed a response to any of these motions. For the reasons explained below, Bellemore's motion to dismiss is denied, but McGregor's motion to dismiss, and the motion for a more definite statement, are granted.

The motions to dismiss. Bellemore and McGregor have separately moved to dismiss Teng's complaint. Each argues that the complaint fails to state a plausible claim for relief against him or her, and that any such claim would nevertheless be barred by the statute of limitations. In deciding these motions, the court "must take the well-pleaded facts in the light most favorable to [Teng] and indulge [her] all reasonable inferences." Gagliardi v. Sullivan, 513 F.3d 301, 305 (1st Cir. 2008).

Teng's claims arise out of her efforts, beginning in May 2008, to buy a condominium unit from Bellemore. Teng, who identifies herself as a "minority," says that, after she offered "full asking price" for one of the units, Bellemore proceeded to demand more money, only to sell it to a "caucasian buyer" for less than the original asking price.

Teng says that, after she "raised [a] question about this discriminatory practice," Bellemore offered her a different unit, but one with a "damaged carpet." After Bellemore "agreed to replace the floor," however, he and Teng entered into a purchase and sale agreement for this second unit, albeit for $15,000 more than the price the "caucasian" buyer had paid for the other unit.

Teng claims that the closing on this transaction was scheduled for May 23, 2008, but Bellemore failed to show up and that, while he proposed later dates--June 12, 2008, and, eventually, September 5, 2008--the closing did not occur on those days, either. Teng says that she later found out, in October 2008, that Bellemore had sold the unit to another "caucasian" buyer, despite having entered into the purchase and sale agreement with Teng and retaining her earnest money deposit.

Teng further alleges that, in February 2009, other units were advertised for sale, but McGregor--who was acting as Bellemore's agent--told Teng "they would not want to sell [one of them] to [her], period." Finally, in July 2010, another real estate agent acting on behalf of Bellemore told Teng that he would not sell any of the remaining units to her because "he wanted to keep [them] for himself."

Teng commenced this action on June 7, 2011. She claims that Bellemore, through McGregor and other real estate agents, refused to sell Teng a condominium on account of her race, in violation of both the Fair Housing Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1982. She also claims a breach of the purchase and sale agreement.

With exceptions that do not appear to be relevant here, the Fair Housing Act outlaws certain discriminatory practices in the sale or rental of housing, including:

(a) To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race . . . [and]

(b) To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling . . . because of race . . .

42 U.S.C. § 3604. Similarly, 42 U.S.C. § 1982 provides that "[a]ll citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property" and therefore "bars all racial discrimination . . . in the sale or rental of property," Jones, 392 U.S. at 413.

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal v. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In moving to dismiss Teng's complaint for failure to state a cause of action, Bellemore addresses only her allegations that he (1) demanded a higher price from her for the second unit than he did from the non-minority buyer for the first unit and (2) eventually told her that he would not sell her any of the units remaining in 2010 because "he wanted to keep [them] for himself." Bellemore argues that, as to these two acts, Teng's "own allegations undermine any reasonable inference of racial animus," because (1) "the difference in asking price was due to improvements sought by" Teng in the second unit, viz., the new floor, rather than her race, and (2) as to his refusal to sell her any of the units remaining in 2010, she "effectively admits ...


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