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Teng v. Bellemore

United States District Court, First Circuit

July 17, 2013

Chao-Cheng Teng
Albert Bellemore, Jr., et al Opinion No. 2013 DNH 092

Chao-Cheng Teng, pro se

John G. Cronin, Esq., Peter G. Callaghan, Esq.


Joseph N. Laplante United States District Judge

Chao-Cheng Teng, proceeding pro se, brings this suit against a representative of the seller of condominium units in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a real estate agent who showed Teng the units, and that agent’s former employer. Teng alleges that the defendants refused to sell her one of the units on the basis of her race, thereby breaching a contract for the sale of the property and violating both the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604-05 and 42 U.S.C. § 1982, which prohibits discrimination in the sale of real property, see Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 413 (1968). By virtue of Teng’s federal claims, this court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction).

The defendants have moved for summary judgment, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, arguing that the undisputed material facts fail to establish, or support a reasonable inference, that they racially discriminated against Teng. The seller’s representative further argues that there was no contract for the sale of the property and even if there was, he cannot be held liable for its breach. After due consideration of the parties’ submissions, the court agrees with the defendants (at least in part), and grants summary judgment in their favor.

I. Applicable legal standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute is “genuine” if it could reasonably be resolved in either party’s favor at trial. See Estrada v. Rhode Island, 594 F.3d 56, 62 (1st Cir. 2010) (citing Meuser v. Fed. Express Corp., 564 F.3d 507, 515 (1st Cir. 2009)). A fact is “material” if it could sway the outcome under applicable law. Id. (citing Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008)). In analyzing a summary judgment motion, the court “views all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id.

I. Background[1]

Teng alleges that she is a non-Caucasian “minority.” The record evidence does not reflect Teng’s race or ethnicity (in one of her memoranda, Teng implies that she is an “Asian immigrant, ” while defendants say she is “of Chinese descent”), but her status as a racial minority is, in any event, undisputed.

In early 2008, Teng contacted Pamela Bailey, then a licensed real estate agent employed in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire office of real estate broker Coldwell Banker. Teng told Bailey that she was interested in purchasing a condominium unit on the beach in Hampton or Seabrook, New Hampshire, for under $100, 000. Although Teng did not want Bailey to be her agent, Bailey and Teng set up an appointment to view several properties.

On the day of their appointment, Bailey and Teng met at the Seabrook Post Office and then drove in separate vehicles to the first of three properties they would view that day, the Shore Club Condominiums in Seabrook. There they met the real estate agent for Shore Club, Kara Schaake. Although there were two first-floor units at Shore Club available for $99, 900–-within Teng’s preferred price range–-Teng was not interested in them due to concerns about flooding, and asked to see units on the second floor. Schaake then showed Teng and Bailey two second-floor units, both of which were priced at $109, 900.

After spending over an hour at Shore Club, Teng and Bailey left to view two other properties, neither of which Teng was interested in. When Teng asked Bailey to accompany her to view a piece of land in Raymond, New Hampshire, Bailey declined and advised Teng to drive by the property herself first, and to contact Bailey if she was interested. Bailey and Teng, who was (in Bailey’s words) “indignant” at Bailey’s refusal to accompany her to Raymond, then parted ways and had no further contact.

The following weekend, Teng arrived at an open house hosted by Schaake at Shore Club, saying that Bailey had “quit on her.” Teng again viewed the available second-floor units and expressed some interest in possibly purchasing one. Schaake believed that Teng might be confused about the nature of the property: a Seabrook zoning ordinance prohibited the Shore Club units from being used as a primary residence, a restriction also reflected in the Shore Club’s condominium documents. Concerned about both this issue and Teng’s desire to make an offer without a buyer’s agent, Schaake advised Teng to contact another local realtor to represent her.

Teng returned to Shore Club later that afternoon with a real estate agent. Teng and her agent spoke to Albert Bellemore, a member of 419 Route 286, LLC, the owner and developer of the property. They inquired whether it would be possible to replace the carpet in one of the units with tile. Bellemore advised them that it would be possible, but informed them that he was not sure of ...

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