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United States v. Ables

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

October 8, 2019




         Before the Court is the August 21, 2019, motion of Defendant, Chad Ables, to dismiss Intervenor-Plaintiffs' breach of contract claim and breach of quiet enjoyment claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Docket Entry “D.E.” 44.) Intervenor-Plaintiffs responded in opposition to the motion on September 19, 2019. (D.E. 46.)


         The United States of America, Plaintiff, initiated this action on December 20, 2018, against Defendant, Chad David Ables, seeking to enforce certain provisions of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the “Fair Housing Act” or “FHA”) on behalf of Renee Jones, DeAnna Yarbrough, and their two minor children. (D.E. 1.) On April 25, 2019, Jones, Yarbrough, and their minor children (collectively, “Intervenor-Plaintiffs” or “Jones and Yarbrough”) filed a motion to intervene, which this Court granted. (D.E. 19, 28.) Intervenor-Plaintiffs filed their complaint against Ables on April 24, 2019. (D.E. 15.)

         Defendant owns and operates residential rental properties in Henderson County, Tennessee, including a multi-family trailer park (“Pops Cove”) in Lexington, Tennessee, which is part of Henderson County. (D.E. 15-5 at ¶¶ 5-6.) In 2017, Jones and Ables entered into an oral contract for residency at Pops Cove. (D.E. 15-5 at ¶ 10.) The present case arises from Jones and Yarbrough's tenant relationship with Defendant. Intervenor-Plaintiffs allege that, during the months of October to December 2017, Ables subjected them to discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of the FHA. (D.E. 15-5 at PageID 68-73.) According to the complaint, the landlord offered to waive Jones and Yarbrough's rent obligation in exchange for sex or “sexually explicit photographs and videos” of the two. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Intervenor-Plaintiffs contend that Defendant increased their rent, attempted to illegally evict them, and physically severed the water connection to their residence due to their resistance to Ables's sexual advances. (Id. at ¶ 51.)

         Based on Defendant's alleged conduct, Jones and Yarbrough assert six causes of action: (1) that Ables, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a), discriminated against them based on sex “by making housing unavailable” after Jones and Yarbrough “repeatedly refused Ables's demands for sexually suggestive or nude photographs”; (2) that Defendant violated 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) by discriminating against Intervenor-Plaintiffs “in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the rental of a dwelling because of sex” when Defendant “repeatedly turned off the water connection” to their residence; (3) that Ables discriminated against Jones and Yarbrough in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c) “by making numerous statements . . . that indicated a preference, limitation or discrimination because of sex or an intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination, ” such as statements requesting sexually explicit pictures and videos, statements requesting sexual relations, and statements concerning Intervenor-Plaintiffs' sexual lifestyle; (4) that Defendant, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617, coerced, intimidated, threatened, or interfered with Intervenor-Plaintiffs “on account of their having exercised or enjoyed their rights granted or protected” by the Fair Housing Act; (5) breach of quiet enjoyment; and (6) breach of contract. (D.E. 15-5, ¶¶ 62-67.) On August 21, 2019, Ables filed a motion to dismiss Jones and Yarbrough's breach of quiet enjoyment and breach of contract claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (D.E. 44.)


         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). The federal district court has original jurisdiction in two circumstances: (1) where diversity jurisdiction exists; and (2) in “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, ” referred to as federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331-32.

         The United States initiated this suit to enforce the FHA. Intervenor-Plaintiffs joined the litigation with the six claims previously listed. Thus, the instant matter is before this Court on federal question jurisdiction grounds.

         In an action over which the district court has original jurisdiction, it may exercise “supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). “Claims form part of the same case or controversy when they derive from a common nucleus of operative facts.” Soehnlen v. Fleet Owners Ins. Fund, 844 F.3d 576, 588 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Harper v. AutoAlliance Int'l, Inc., 392 F.3d 195, 209 (6th Cir. 2004)). “This requirement is met when state and federal law claims arise from the same contract, dispute, or transaction.” Soehnlen, 844 F.3d at 588 (citing Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350-51 (1988)).

         However, district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over such related claims if:

(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law;
(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has ...

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