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Willoughby v. Oakmead Associates, L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 5, 2016

SHEILA L. WILLOUGHBY, Plaintiff,
v.
OAKMEADE ASSOCIATES, L.P. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Oakmeade Associates, L.P.'s MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 26) the AMENDED AMENDED COMPLAINT (ECF No. 22) . For the reasons stated below, Oakmeade Associates, L.P.'s MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 26) will be granted in part and denied in part. The motion is granted to the extent that it seeks dismissal of the case: the case is dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend. The motion is denied to the extent that it seeks attorney's fees.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, the Estate of Sheila L. Willoughby ("the Estate"), proceeding through the appointed representative, Mike M. Willoughby ("Mike Willoughby,"), alleges that, in early 2015, Sheila L. Willoughby ("Sheila Willoughby") provided assistance in an ongoing criminal investigation against her landlord, Oakmeade Associates, L.P. ("Oakmeade") involving Dominion Power's Energy Assistance Program. (Am. Am. Compl., ECF No. 18, 1). In April 2015, Oakmeade refused to renew Sheila Willougby's lease. (Am. Am. Compl. 1-2). The Amended Amended Complaint alleges that the termination of Sheila Willoughby's lease was "retaliation for participating in 'protected activities' by reporting, helping, and assisting in a criminal investigation into fraudulent activities that were occurring" in one of Oakmeade's rental properties. (Am. Am. Compl. 1-2).

         On October 29, 2015, Sheila Willoughby filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. (ECF No. 1). On February 3, 2016, Sheila Willoughby filed a substantially similar case in this Court, Case No. 3:16-cv-00072. On February 16, 2016, before the Court ruled on the Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, Sheila Willoughby paid the civil filing fee and filed her complaint. (Docket Nos. 6, 7). On the same day, Sheila Willoughby also filed a motion to consolidate this case and Case No. 3:16-cv-00072. On March 14, 2016, Mike Willoughby, Sheila Willoughby's son, filed a "Notice of Death" and a motion to appoint him as his mother's successor in this action. (Docket Nos. 10, 11).

         On March 18, 2016, the Court denied the Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis as moot, dismissed Case No. 3:16-cv-00072 and accordingly denied the Motion to Consolidate as moot, and dismissed the Complaint and the unfiled amended complaints without prejudice because Mike Willoughby had not demonstrated that he was an appropriate representative of Sheila Willoughby's estate. (ECF No. 13).

         On April 14, 2016, Mike Willoughby filed paperwork to the effect that he had qualified as the administrator of his mother's estate. (ECF No. 14). On March 13, 2016, the Court permitted Mike Willoughby to proceed as representative of his mother's estate, [1] reinstated the case, and directed the Clerk to file the "Amended Amended Complaint."[2] (ECF No. 17).

         On June 30, 2016, Oakmeade filed this motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 26).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         As a threshold matter, the Court recognizes that the Estate's pro se status entitles its pleadings to a liberal construction. See, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citations omitted); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Nevertheless, "[e]ven pro se plaintiffs must recognize Rule 8's vision for a system of simplified pleadings that give notice of the general claim asserted, allow for the preparation of a basic defense, narrow the issues to be litigated, and provide a means for quick dispositions of sham claims, " Sewraz v. Guice, 2008 WL 3926443, at *2 (E.D. Va. Aug. 26, 2008) (quoting Prezzi v. Berzak, 57 F.R.D. 149, 151 (S.D.N.Y. 1972)). The requirement of liberal construction Moes not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. Skelton v. EPA, 2009 WL 2191981, at *2 (D.S.C. July 16, 2009) (citing Weller v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990)). Finally, the basic pleading standards set by Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) that foreclose conclusory, factually unsupported claims apply to pro se litigants.

         A motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corp., 458 F.3d 332, 338 (4th Cir.2006). Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in to give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir.2015) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court "draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir.2009). However, while the court must "will accept the pleader's description of what happened" and "any conclusions that can be reasonably drawn therefrom, " the court "need not accept conclusory allegations encompassing the legal effects of the pleaded facts, " Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed.1998); Chamblee v. Old Dominion Sec. Co., L.L.C., No. 3:13CV820, 2014 WL 1415095, *4 (E.D. Va. 2014). Nor is the court required to accept as true a legal conclusion unsupported by factual allegations, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). "Twombly and Iqbal also made clear that the analytical approach for evaluating Rule 12(b) (6) motions to dismiss requires courts to reject conclusory allegations that amount to mere formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim and to conduct a context-specific analysis to determine whether the well-pleaded factual allegations plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Wright & Miller, supra; Chamblee, supra. In sum, a 12(b) (6) motion should be granted if, "after accepting all well-pleaded allegations ... as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

         ANALYSIS

         Construing the Amended Amended Complaint liberally, it is intended to prosecute a claim under the retaliation ...


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