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Johnson v. Housing Authority Birmingham District

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 30, 2018

IRENE JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Plaintiffs Irene Johnson, Raymond Fuller, Catherine Headen, Linda Green, and Rose Crowder are residents of Southtown Court Public Housing Community (“Southtown”) in Birmingham, Alabama. They seek declaratory and injunctive relief and damages against the Housing Authority of Birmingham District (“HABD”), the City of Birmingham (the “City”), and Southside Development Company, LLC (“Southside”) based on allegations that the defendants have discriminated against them in the proposed redevelopment of Southtown and retaliated against them for exercising rights under federal and state fair housing laws. Doc. 22. The plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the defendants from proceeding with redevelopment plans at Southtown, see doc. 2, and the defendants moved to dismiss this action, docs. 25; 28; 29.[1] The motions are fully briefed and ripe for review. See docs. 3; 26; 28; 29; 33; 39; 41. Because Article III of the U.S. Constitution limits federal court jurisdiction to actual “cases” and “controversies, ” U.S. Const. art III, § 2, and because the plaintiffs' challenge to the proposed redevelopment rests upon contingent future events that may or may not occur and, as such, is not yet ripe for adjudication, see Texas v. United States, 523 U.S. 296, 300 (1998), for the reasons stated more fully below, the defendants' motions to dismiss, docs. 25; 28; 29, are due to be granted, and the plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief, doc. 2, is due to be denied.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must . . . state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, the line between possibility and plausibility is a thin one, and making such a determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts “the allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016).

         A motion to dismiss based on ripeness implicates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which authorizes a motion to dismiss based on the defense that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. “Attacks on subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) come in two forms, ‘facial' and ‘factual' attacks.” Morrison v. Amway Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 924 n.5 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Facial attacks to jurisdiction are based on the allegations in the complaint, which the court must take as true in deciding whether to grant the motion. Id. “Factual attacks challenge subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleading, ” and the court may consider extrinsic evidence when deciding a factual attack to jurisdiction. Id. In such a case, “the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Id. at 925 (quoting Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).


         Southtown is a 455-unit housing project that is owned and managed by HABD and located on twenty-six acres near downtown Birmingham. Docs. 22 at ¶¶ 18-19; 1-2 at 9. Approximately 1, 000 people currently live in Southtown. Doc. 22 at ¶ 22. The vast majority of the residents, including the plaintiffs, are African- American, and many of the residents are disabled or live in single-parent households. Id. at ¶¶ 6-10, 22.

         HABD hired a Camiros, Ltd. in 2014 as a “planning coordinator” to help HABD formulate a strategy for the redevelopment of Southtown. Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 6. In 2015, HABD announced that it would apply for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to redevelop Southtown. Doc. 22 at ¶ 30. The Choice Neighborhoods program is a competitive grant program dedicated to improving distressed public housing by focusing in part on “replacing distressed housing with quality, well-maintained, mixed-income housing.” Id. at ¶ 31; Doc. 1-3 at 1. According to the plaintiffs, the focus on mixed-income housing leads to unfair and discriminatory housing practices and causes displacement of low-income residents. See doc. 22 at ¶ 28.

         HABD issued a request for proposals (“RFP”) on June 30, 2016 to solicit proposals from potential developer partners for the redevelopment. Docs. 26-1 at ¶ 8; 26-2; see also doc. 22 at ¶ 35. The RFP indicates that one of HABD's goals for the redevelopment of Southtown is to create a mixed-income community. See doc. 26-2 at 7, 9. The plaintiffs assert that the RFP process “was riddled with improprieties” in part because HABD amended the RFP twice without cause in order to benefit Southside and because other developers with “more experience in managing public housing residential redevelopments . . . were rejected without justification.” Doc. 22 at ¶¶ 35, 36(c); see also Docs. 26-3 and 26-4.

         In January 2017, HABD announced that it selected Southside as its developer partner for the Southtown redevelopment project. Docs. 22 at ¶ 32; 26-1 at ¶ 10; 28 at 6, ¶ 3. Since that time Southside and HABD have negotiated a memorandum of understanding that broadly defines the business relationship between the two parties, doc. 26-1 at ¶ 10, and they have discussed the terms for the negotiation of a “Master Development Agreement, ” which will “require the preparation of a Comprehensive Redevelopment Plan” for Southtown. Doc. 28 at 6-7, ¶ 4. Southside has also drafted a “Preliminary Pre-Development Schedule” that had not been approved by HABD as of November 1, 2017. Id. at 7, ¶ 7. Under the draft Preliminary Pre-Development Schedule, the Master Development Agreement and Comprehensive Redevelopment Plan are to be completed in 2018. Id.

         The redevelopment process for Southtown has not been transparent for the plaintiffs and residents of Southtown, and the plaintiffs assert that HABD and Southside have not engaged the residents in the process so far. Doc. 22 at ¶¶ 32-33, 39; see also doc. 1-4 at ¶ 7. The plaintiffs also assert that the defendants have ignored or marginalized their concerns, withheld critical information about the proposed redevelopment, and held redevelopment planning meetings at locations the residents could not easily access. Doc. 22 at ¶¶ 32, 36. According to the plaintiffs, “the proposed redevelopment plan submitted by Southside [] and approved by HABD and the City” will have a disparate impact on African Americans, displace a substantial number of Southtown residents, increase racial segregation in Birmingham, violate fair housing laws, and fail to affirmatively further fair housing. Id. at ¶¶ 34, 41-43. In addition, the plaintiffs assert that HABD and the City approved the proposed redevelopment plan without the benefit of an impact analysis that would indicate how the redevelopment will affect segregation and fair housing in Birmingham. Id. at ¶¶ 34(a), 44.

         The plaintiffs have purportedly faced retaliation for opposing the plan to redevelop Southtown. Docs. 22 at ¶¶ 47-51; 1-4 at ¶ 9. After Irene Johnson “became vocal about the redevelopment of Southtown, she received a lease termination notice on her door from [] HABD for non-payment of rent.” Doc. 22 at ¶ 47. However, HABD “verbally retracted” the termination notice after Ms. Johnson requested a grievance hearing and provided proof of payment. Id. Also in July 2017, Ms. Johnson “was removed as Resident Council president” for Southtown even though she had held the position for over fourteen years and was elected to the position two months earlier for a three-year term. Id. at ¶ 50. As the Resident Council president, Ms. Johnson had a key to the community meeting room at Southtown, and she used the room to conduct community meetings. Id. at ¶ 49. However, as part of the alleged retaliatory conduct, HABD changed the locks to the meeting room in August 2017, and informed residents that they could not conduct community or neighborhood meetings on Southtown property without prior approval. Id. at ¶¶ 49, 51; see also doc. 26-8.

         The plaintiffs filed this action seeking a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent the defendants from proceeding with redevelopment plans and have amended their complaint once. See docs. 1; 2; 22. In claims one through eight of the Amended Complaint, the plaintiffs assert claims for alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), the Alabama Fair Housing Law (“AFHL”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Doc. 22 at ¶¶ 52-77. The plaintiffs also assert two claims for alleged retaliation in violation of the FHA and AFHL. Id. at ¶¶ 78-83.

         III. ...

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