United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
M. HILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss (Dkt. 6) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) and Plaintiffs' Motion to Supplement the Record
(Dkt. 15) .
Christopher and Sara Guerre, are farmers that are highly
successful in the farm-to-table movement in the Northern
Virginia area. Plaintiffs leased property from Defendants,
Laura and Charles Nichols, for their farming operation. The
property included a single-family residence, a significant
acreage for farming, and assorted outbuildings. Plaintiffs
leased the property for nearly seven years and made numerous
improvements to it such as building a greenhouse and
installing a well. For the majority of the time when
Plaintiffs lived on and worked Defendants' land the
relationship between the parties was amicable.
2015, Ms. Guerre became pregnant and was visibly so by the
fall of that year. Shortly after Defendants had an
opportunity to observe Ms. Guerre, they wrote a letter on
December 1, 2015 to Plaintiffs informing them that they would
need to vacate the property by February 28, 2016. This letter
stated that the Defendants could no longer afford the expense
of maintaining the house and farm for rent. Plaintiffs
requested an extension of time to vacate the property due to
the time and expense it would take to do so, as well as the
impending birth of their child. Defendants accommodated this
baby was born in March of 2016 and neither the mother nor the
child tested positive for lead exposure. In July of 2016,
Defendants had the residence tested for potential lead
exposure risks. The report found that the levels of lead were
within regulatory guidelines and that simple remediation
would ensure it remained safe. Plaintiffs also paid for
independent lead testing of the house with the same result.
Defendants, however, informed Plaintiffs after the testing
that they were still unwilling to take on the liability of
having a young child in the house with the potential of
exposure. Defendants told Plaintiffs they would need to
vacate the residence by September 30, 2016 and would need to
remove all farming equipment from the property by December
31, 2016. Plaintiffs again requested an extension and
Defendants gave a ten-day grace period to complete removal of
personal property from the house.
the date to vacate was looming, Plaintiffs attempted to
renegotiate the lease. Plaintiffs also informed Defendants
that they believed the eviction was discriminatory and they
had filed complaints with the Fairfax County Human Rights
Commission (FHRC) and Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD). Defendants responded that potential
liability with the child in the house was the reason for the
eviction. After being informed of the administrative
complaints, Defendants sent Plaintiffs a letter informing
them there would no longer be a ten-day grace period.
Plaintiffs were unable to completely vacate the premises by
the deadline and attempted to pay rent while they continued
to remove their belongings.
did not accept these payments and instead brought suit in
Virginia state court for unlawful detainer. The original suit
was dismissed on procedural grounds and refiled. Defendants
won this second suit and were awarded possession of the
property and $305.00 in unpaid rent, though they had sought
many thousands of dollars.
January 4, 2017, FHRC issued a report on the complaint filed by
Plaintiffs finding that Defendants were subject to housing
laws, had discriminated against Plaintiffs based on familial
status, and retaliated against Plaintiffs for filing the
County sued Defendants in state court on behalf of
Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs initially intervened in that suit as
was their right, but they nonsuited their intervention when
their counsel withdrew from the case. During the trial,
Plaintiffs were witnesses to put on evidence of the damages
they had suffered. The County was partially successful in its
case succeeding in proving discrimination on the merits but
failing to prove retaliation. The state court awarded the
County injunctive relief, as well as $2, 500.00 that was for
the benefit of Plaintiffs. In making his ruling, the state
court judge found that the damages alleged by Plaintiffs were
overstated and that $2, 500.00 was the appropriate remedy.
While both the County and Plaintiffs found that the award was
too low, neither moved for additur or appealed the judgment.
brought this suit alleging two counts: discrimination in
violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604
(Count I); retaliation in violation of the Fair Housing Act,
42 U.S.C. § 3617 (Count II). Defendants have moved to
dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) contending it is barred by the doctrine of
motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint.
See Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d
943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). The complaint must provide a short
and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and it must state a plausible
claim for relief to survive a motion to dismiss, Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). If the issue of
claim preclusion clearly appears on the face of the
complaint, then a 12(b)(6) motion is appropriate to consider
the issue. Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n. 1
(4th Cir. 2000); Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac
R. Co. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993).
contend that Plaintiffs are unable to recover on the claims
brought in this suit due to the doctrine of res judicata as
the facts and circumstances underlying this suit are the same
as those that were the basis of the state court action.
Plaintiffs admit that the same facts are the cause of action
in both suits, but they argue that res judicata does not
apply as the Fair Housing Act (FHA) provides dual enforcement
scheme where there is no preclusion between the different
avenues of relief and exceptions to the application of res
judicata apply in this case.
begin, Plaintiffs rely on the dual enforcement scheme
provided by the FHA. Under the FHA, an aggrieved person, i.e.
one suffering housing discrimination, may file an
administrative complaint with HUD or bring a personal civil
action in an appropriate court. 42 U.S.C. §§
3610(a)(1), 3613(a)(1)(A), 3613(c) (1) . The aggrieved person
may file their personal civil action "whether or not [an
administrative] complaint has been filed under section
3610(a) of this title and without regard to the status of any
such complaint." 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(2). The only
limitation is that the private avenue of litigation is barred
if "[HUD or the] local agency has obtained a
conciliation agreement with the consent of the aggrieved
person . . . [or] an administrative law judge has commenced a
hearing on the record" regarding the complaint. 42
U.S.C. § 3613(a)(2) & (3). Plaintiffs contend that
neither of these preclusive events occurred in this case.
support their claim, Plaintiffs direct the Court to review a
Third Circuit opinion from Mitchell v. Cellone, 389
F.3d 86 (3d Cir. 2004). In Mitchell, tenants sought
to bring their own personal civil case against their landlord
after requesting that the state agency that initially
responded to their claim drop its suit against the landlord.
Id. at 88-89. The Third Circuit, as a matter of
first impression, found that the lawsuit brought by the state
agency was merely a continuation of the administrative
enforcement action and thus did not automatically bar a
subsequent suit by the tenants. Id. at 90-92. This
was due to the dual enforcement scheme found in the FHA.
Id. It is important to note, that in
Mitchell no final and preclusive judgment had been
rendered in the state ...