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Benton v. Phillips Edison & Co., Ltd.

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

December 8, 2017



          Henry E. Hudson United States District Judge

         Evelyn Benton ("Plaintiff), acting pro se, brought this action against Phillips Edison & Co., Ltd. ("Defendant") alleging that Defendant breached the terms of Plaintiffs commercial lease, violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, and violated various provisions of the Virginia Code. This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)[1] (ECF No. 7), filed on October 20, 2017, and Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint ("PI. Mot., " ECF No. 12), filed on October 27, 2017. Although Plaintiff did not file either a response to the Motion to Dismiss or a reply in support of her Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint, the Court finds that the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before it, and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. E.D. Va. Local Civ. R. 7(J). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As required by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court assumes Plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations to be true and views all facts in the light most favorable to her. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan, LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). Legal conclusions, however, enjoy no such deference. Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Generally, the district court does not consider extrinsic materials when evaluating a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). The court may, however, consider "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, " Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007), as well as documents attached to a motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint, and the authenticity of such documents is not disputed. United States ex re I. Oberg v. Pa. Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 136 (4th Cir. 2014); Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). In this case, the lease Plaintiff executed with Ashland Junction, L.C., the lease-amendment documents, and the notification Plaintiff received from Defendant telling her that her lease was ending ("Termination Notice") are all incorporated into the Complaint by reference, and they are additionally attached to both the Motion to Dismiss and Plaintiffs proposed Second Amended Complaint. Neither party disputes the authenticity of these documents, and so the Court will consider them for purposes of resolving the motions before it.

         Viewed through this lens, the facts are as follows.

         In 2012, Plaintiff entered into a lease with Ashland Junction, L.C., to rent commercial space in Ashland Junction Shopping Center in Ashland, Virginia ("Lease"). (ECF Nos. 8-1, 12-1.) Plaintiff and Ashland Junction, L.C. executed three subsequent lease renewal amendments ("Lease Amendments") in 2013, 2014, and 2015. (ECF Nos. 8-2, 8-3, 8-4, 12-3, 12-4, 12-5.) The Third Lease Amendment, executed in 2015, extended the term of the Lease through August 31, 2017. (ECF Nos. 8-4, 12-5.)

         At the time the original Lease was executed, Ashland Junction, L.C. was registered as a Virginia limited liability company. In February of 2016, Ashland Junction L.C. domesticated in the state of Delaware and changed its name to Ashland Junction, LLC. The new entity, Ashland Junction LLC, assumed all the rights and obligations of Ashland Junction L.C, including all rights and obligations assigned to the Landlord in Plaintiffs Lease. (See Termination Notice, ECF No. 12-8 (referring to Ashland Junction, LLC as successor-in-interest to Ashland Junction, L.C.).)

         On August 22, 2017, in its capacity as the property management agent for Ashland Junction LLC, Defendant sent Plaintiff a Termination Notice reminding her that the Lease was set to expire on August 31, 2017. (Id.) The Termination Notice also provided that, pursuant to the Lease's 30-day notice requirement, the effective date of lease-termination would be September 21, 2017. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on September 19, 2017, alleging that Defendant's behavior and practices violated the terms of the lease, Virginia Code §§ 55-248.31, 55-222, and 54.1-2106.1, as well as the Federal Trade Commission Act. On September 22, 2017, before Defendant was served with process, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss with Roseboro Notice on October 20, 2017. Plaintiff then filed her Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint on October 27, 2017, and Defendant filed its opposition thereto on November 7, 2017.


         A. Motion to Dismiss

          "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only 4a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations, " but must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), to one that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. In considering such a motion, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater, 385 F.3d at 841 (citation omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Additionally, "[a] document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-105 (1976)). To that end, "a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "[p]leadings must be construed to do justice." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d). At the same time, courts recognize that a plaintiff "can plead himself out of court by pleading facts that show that he has no legal claim." Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011) (Posner, J.) (citing Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 588 (7th Cir. 2009); Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1086 (7th Cir. 2008); EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007); Orthmann v. Apple River Campground, 757 F.2d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 1985); Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006)); see also Dolgaleva v. Va. Beach City Pub. Sch., 364 Fed.Appx.. 820, 827 (4th Cir. 2010).

         B. Motion for Leave to File ...

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