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Steele v. Eck

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 12, 2018

KENNETH ERIC STEELE, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD ECK, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, appearing pro se, filed suit alleging rental discrimination based on race. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on grounds that no evidence supports plaintiff's claims and defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff did not respond to defendant's motion, despite being given several extensions of time in which to do so. After review of the record, defendant's motion is granted and this case is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         In November of 2015, plaintiff and his girlfriend, Denise Paulsen, signed a lease agreement to rent property owned by defendant on a month-to-month basis, commencing on November 15, 2015. Am. Complaint ¶¶ 10, 13, 19-20 & Ex. 1 (ECF Nos. 13, 13-1); Eck. Decl. ¶ 2 (ECF No. 40-1). Plaintiff alleges that defendant was reluctant to enter into the rental agreement because of plaintiff's race, and that he overheard defendant use a racial epithet directed at plaintiff. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16, 18. According to Paulsen, defendant was cordial to her and “indifferent” to plaintiff when they met, and defendant later told Paulsen that he would not have rented the property to plaintiff “if it wasn't for” her. See Paulsen Decl. at 1-2 (ECF No. 31).

         On March 16, 2016, Paulsen and plaintiff informed defendant that Paulsen was moving out and plaintiff would assume responsibility for the rent and all financial obligations as of April 16, 2016. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29 & Ex. 2. The same day, defendant issued a termination notice stating that the month-to-month tenancy would terminate on April 16, 2016 and both plaintiff and Paulsen were required to move out by that date. Id. Ex. 3.

         On April 14, 2016, Paulsen and defendant entered into an updated agreement stipulating that the last month's rent paid by Paulsen in November 2015 would be applied to the period from April 16 through May 16, 2016, and that both plaintiff and Paulsen were allowed to remain until May 16, 2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 31 & Ex. 4; Eck. Decl. ¶ 4.

         On May 17, 2016, Paulsen met defendant at the rental property. Paulsen's and petitioner's belongings had been removed and Paulsen returned her key to defendant. Eck Decl. ¶ 6. Paulsen asserts that plaintiff had not agreed to move out and had not returned his key; consequently, she claims that she “took it upon” herself to remove plaintiff's belongings “to avoid the upcoming legal battle.” Paulsen Decl. at 3. Defendant then changed the locks.

         On June 7, 2016, shortly past 2:00 a.m., a neighbor called the police and reported a break-in at defendant's rental property. Eck Decl. ¶ 7; Am. Compl. ¶ 36; Def.'s Answer Ex. 1 (ECF No. 18-1). Police officers responded and found defendant and a woman (not Paulsen) inside the property. The officers also found damage to a door leading from the mudroom and evidence of a forced entry.

         Defendant subsequently filed a forcible entry and detainer (FED) suit against plaintiff in Klamath County and judgment was rendered in favor of defendant. Eck Decl. ¶ 8.

         On September 16, 2016, plaintiff filed this action.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant unlawfully terminated the lease agreement without adequate notice because of plaintiff's race. Specifically, plaintiff contends he was a lawful resident as of June 7, 2016, because defendant was required to provide thirty days' notice before terminating the updated lease agreement allowing plaintiff to remain until May 16, 2016. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 33-34. Plaintiff also maintains that defendant exhibited racial hostility towards him on several occasions and falsely told his neighbor that plaintiff had moved out of the property. Id. ¶¶ 16, 18, 23-24, 30, 35. Defendant argues that no evidence supports plaintiff's claims.

         To prevail on his motion for summary judgment, defendant must show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011).

         Construing plaintiff's claims broadly, he alleges racial discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The FHA and § 1983 make it unlawful to deny a rental dwelling or to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges of a rental agreement because of race. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 3604; Pavon v. Swift Transp. ...


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