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Stowell v. Open Door Mission

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

April 17, 2017



          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on March 8, 2017. (Filing No. 1.) She has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 3.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff’s Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).


         Plaintiff brings this action against the Open Door Mission (“ODM”) and its CEO, Candace Gregory (“Gregory”). (Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff moved into ODM at the end of January 2015 to escape an abusive landlord. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 4-5.) She stayed in ODM’s emergency shelter for six weeks awaiting a “Permanent Supportive Housing” (“PSH”) room. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she has “multiple chemical sensitivities.” (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.) She admits that ODM staff announced many times to the women residents not to spray air fresheners or perfumes in their attempt to accommodate Plaintiff’s “chemical sensitivities.” (Id.) She alleges that a small group of women defied the rule. (Id.) ODM Director Steve Frazee denied her request to sleep in the separate community room that night, but he allowed another resident to sleep in there the next night. (Id.) Plaintiff informed Gregory about the situation. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she requested that “intern Pam” not wear perfume at work. (Id.) Pam harassed Plaintiff about her reasonable accommodation request and the harassment continued after Plaintiff reported it to ODM social worker Tina Murray (“Murray”). (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that over the next several weeks, six to seven women, who applied for rooms after Plaintiff, received a PSH room. (Id.) Plaintiff informed Murray and Gregory. (Id.) Gregory informed Plaintiff that she needed living quarters elsewhere without shared bathrooms and bedrooms. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she later wrote Murray and Gregory and asked if she could sleep in the community room that night if another woman resident sprayed the room like she did the night before. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that she got no response and the woman “sprayed up the room just before bedtime.” (Id.) Staff told Plaintiff, “Steve says this is no place for accommodations and go to another shelter.” (Id.) Plaintiff states that she told them she suffered abuse at the other shelters and could not go to them. (Id.) Staff informed her she could call Steve (presumably Director Frazee). (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that when she asked them to call him, staff told her to leave or they would call the police. (Id.) Plaintiff states that she had to leave without finding another shelter first. (Id.)

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from ODM, primarily because her dismissal from ODM subjected her to six months of “rough shelter environments,” which exacerbated her PTSD caused from her abusive landlord. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.)


         The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible,” or “their complaint must be dismissed.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”).

         “The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.’” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


         Plaintiff asserts claims under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), see42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 3.)[1] The FHA makes it unlawful to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap of - - (A) that person . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2)(A). Several courts have concluded that temporary homeless shelters are “dwellings” under the FHA. See Hunter on behalf ofA.H. v. D.C., 64 F.Supp.3d 158, 174 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing cases). Discrimination includes “a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). The term “handicap” is defined as a person ...

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