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Hoglund v. Charter Communications, Inc.

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

October 9, 2018



          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Clarence Robert Hoglund, Jr. (“Hoglund”) filed this action against Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”), Thomas M. Rutledge, and Employees of the Gardendale Alabama Office of Charter Communications (collectively “Defendants”), alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Robison-Patman Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Hobbs Act, Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Ala. Code § 13A-6-193. Before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 8.) The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion to dismiss (doc. 8) is due to be granted.

         I. Background [1]

         Hoglund is a seventy-six-year-old disabled veteran. In January 2014, Hoglund moved to a condominium complex in Trussville, Alabama. He specifically chose this complex because he would be able to install a Dish satellite to watch television. Hoglund's landlord allowed him to install the satellite, and between January 2014 and June 2016, Dish provided Hoglund with uninterrupted television service.

         In June 2016, Hoglund requested Charter internet service. When a Charter technician came to Hoglund's condominium, he disabled the Dish satellite. The technician told Hoglund that he had been instructed to disconnect any cable connection not provided by Charter. After calling Charter and receiving an apology, Hoglund apparently had the satellite repaired. According to Hoglund, this scene repeated itself multiple times until he moved in April 2017. Every few weeks, Charter would come and disconnect the Dish satellite and Hoglund would then have the satellite repaired. This resulted in Hoglund losing television service for days at a time.

         When Hoglund contacted Charter's Gardendale, Alabama office, he was told that Charter owned all of the cable lines in his condominium complex so that only Charter could provide television service to its residents. Following Hoglund's conversation with Charter's Gardendale office, he made numerous customer service complaints and wrote to Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge about the satellite disconnection, but according to Hoglund, those complaints were falsely categorized as complaints about Charter's internet service. Hoglund also filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which he alleges Charter responded to by stating that all of Hoglund's prior complaints related to internet service problems and not his Dish satellite. Hoglund claims that his issues with Charter forced him to move out of his condominium and into a single-family residence. He contends that this move has caused him serious financial, emotional, and physical harm because he now lives farther from friends, medical facilities, and shopping areas and has had to hire someone to help maintain his house.

         II. Standard of Review

          The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To meet this standard, the complaint must state enough facts to raise the right to relief “above a speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Pleadings based upon “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations will not suffice. Id. at 555, 557. A party need not specifically plead each element in his or her cause of action, but the pleading must contain “enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some viable legal theory.” Am. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. Of Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, Fla., 637 F.3d 1178, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011). Ultimately, the Court must be able to draw a reasonable inference from the facts that the other party is liable. Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1215 (11th Cir. 2012). The Court must construe pleadings broadly and resolve inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Levine v. World Fin. Network Nat'l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1120 (11th Cir. 2006).

         Moreover, the Court must liberally construe Hoglund's complaint because he submitted his complaint pro se. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, while a pro se plaintiff will be given greater leniency, “[t]his leniency . . . does not require or allow courts to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” Thomas v. Pentagon Fed. Credit Union, 393 Fed.Appx. 635, 637 (11th Cir. 2010).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff's complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. To be plausible, the claim for relief must contain “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to support the claim. Id. at 556. If this Court decides that the facts pleaded by plaintiff do not state a plausible claim, the complaint is due to be dismissed. Id. at 570. To have facial plausibility, the plaintiff's complaint must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         III. Discussion

         Hoglund first brings claims against Charter under Sections One and Two of the Sherman Antitrust Act. To bring a claim under Section One, 15 U.S.C. § 1, a plaintiff must allege (1) an agreement between two or more persons or business entities, (2) designed to achieve an unlawful objective, (3) that actually restrains trade. See Aquatherm Indus., Inc. v. Fla. Power & Light Co., 145 F.3d 1258, 1262 (11th Cir. 1998). Moreover, the plaintiff must define both the relevant product and geographic markets. See Jacobs v. Tempur-Pedic Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 1327, 1336 (11th Cir. 2010). Section Two of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2, prohibits (1) monopolization; (2) attempted monopolization; and (3) conspiracies to monopolize. See 15 U.S.C. § 2. Like claims brought under Section One, the failure to define either the product or geographic boundaries of a relevant market is fatal to a monopolization claim. See Spanish Broad. Sys. of Fla., Inc. v. Clear Channel Commc'ns. Inc., 376 F.3d 1065, 1074 (11th Cir. 2004).

         For antitrust purposes, the geographic market “is the area in which the product or its reasonably interchangeable substitutes are traded.” T. Harris Young & Assoc., Inc. v. Marquette Elecs., Inc., 931 F.2d 816, 823 (11th Cir. 1991). In other words, “[t]he relevant market is the ‘area of effective competition' in which competitors generally are willing to compete for consumer potential . . . .” Am. Key Corp. v. Cole Nat. Corp., 762 F.2d 1569, 1581 (11th Cir. 1985).

         Here, Hoglund does not specifically define the relevant product or geographic markets. Construing Hoglund's complaint liberally, the Court finds that the relevant product market at issue is television and internet services. The closest Hoglund comes to defining the relevant geographic market is describing Charter's control over the cable lines in his condominium complex located at 811 Penny Lane, Trussville, Alabama. Common sense dictates that the relevant geographic market cannot be this narrow. Charter, Dish, and other television providers compete with each other to service consumers throughout the United States and not just the occupants of Hoglund's condominium complex. Moreover, when the condominium residents signed their leases they had the ability to, as Hoglund did, inquire into the cable and internet services that would be available to them. If they wished for a provider other than Charter, they could have chosen to live somewhere else. Thus, at some point, Charter competed for the residents' business, and the condominium complex is not so isolated from the rest of the economy as to plausibly form a distinct geographic market. See Wampler v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 597 F.3d 741, 746 (5th Cir. 2010) (finding that one multiple ...

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