LOGAN — The defendants in a lawsuit filed by a tenant of a Logan subsidized housing facility have asked a judge to dismiss the suit in its entirety, claiming that plaintiff Austin T. Beck has provided no facts to back up his claim that he was harassed as part of a ploy to illegally evict him.
Beck’s attorney has responded in a brief that according to settled Ohio case law, Beck does not have to include in his complaint the legal arguments he will rely on in court, but only a “short and plain statement of the circumstances entitling (him) to relief.” Beck has included more than enough in his complaint, attorney Ryan Shepler argues, to allow his suit to proceed to trial.
The defendants have replied in a brief of their own that Shepler is simply wrong about the law, and that Beck’s lawsuit lacks the factual basis to keep it from being thrown out. “Contrary to plaintiff’s assertion, to survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiff’s conclusions must be supported by factual assertions,” the defense brief argues. “The complaint here remains in the realm of speculative musings and must be dismissed.”
In March Beck, a resident of Logan Terrace Apartments, filed suit in Hocking County Common Pleas Court against the apartment complex, the nonprofit companies that own it, the company that manages it, and an employee of the management company.
Beck alleges that after he got into a dispute with the management firm over a fire in his kitchen that wasn’t his fault, he was subjected to systematic harassment meant to drive him out of the facility. One element of this campaign, Beck claims, was the filing of a false criminal complaint against him for telecommunications harassment, by apartments manager and lawsuit defendant Laurie Mowery.
In an answer to the lawsuit filed May 17, attorneys for the defendants – Mowery; her employer RLJ Management Co., Inc.; Logan Terrace owner Buckeye Community Forty-Nine, LP; and its parent organization, the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation – asked Judge John T. Wallace to throw the lawsuit out of court for failing to state any claim for which relief can be granted.
Beck claims that after the kitchen fire in July 2019, Mowery demanded he pay $5,000 to cover the damage it caused, despite Beck’s claim that law enforcement determined he was not at fault for the blaze. After Beck won a legal dispute over this issue, he alleges, Mowery “began to engage in a pattern of harassment targeting (him)” to try to drive him out of the complex.
In addition to annoyances such as posting frequent notices on his apartment door demanding 24-hour access to the apartment, and failing to provide needed maintenance services, he claims, Mowery filed “a false report” against him with the county sheriff, alleging that he was harassing Mowery via telecommunications, and also sought a civil protection order against him. As support for his claim that these legal steps were illegitimate and meant to drive him out of his home, Beck cites the fact that both the criminal case against him and the protection order request ended up being dismissed.
The legal counts Beck alleges the defendants committed include breach of contract; retaliation; breach of warrant of habitability for his apartment; breach of warrant of quiet enjoyment of his residence; wrongful eviction; abuse of process; malicious prosecution (this count is an alternative to the abuse of process claim); intentional infliction of emotional distress; and vicarious liability on the part of the companies for Mowery’s alleged actions.
In their answer, the defendants maintain that the facts alleged in Beck’s complaint “lack the necessary level of detail to move his claims from the conceivable to the plausible.”
To support his claims that Mowery abused the legal process and/or engaged in malicious prosecution, they say, Beck would need to offer evidence that Mowery actually had an ulterior motive in filing her criminal complaint and petition for a protection order – namely, to evict him. The mere facts that the complaint and petition were dismissed, the defendants maintain, do not suffice to show that Mowery filed them for illegitimate reasons.
To prove his claim that they intentionally inflicted him with emotional distress, the defendants say, Beck would have to show that their conduct toward him – such as posting frequent notices on his door, or making rude comments about his mental health – was “extreme and outrageous.” Even if every action Beck alleges the defendants took against him is accepted as true, they argue, these “amount to ‘mere insults, indignities,’ and ‘annoyances’ that do not constitute ‘extreme and outrageous’ conduct.”
In Shepler’s response to the dismissal motion, filed May 26, he claims that Beck could delete more than 50 paragraphs of his original complaint, and what was left would still be sufficient to keep the complaint from being dismissed – especially as, at this early stage of the legal process, the court is required to treat the plaintiff’s allegations as being true, and to make any inferences in his favor. Shepler argues that Beck’s complaint, “which describes a disturbing pattern of harassment by Laurie Mowery and her corporate superiors, quite obviously supports his claims for relief.”
In their response to Shepler’s brief, filed June 2, the attorneys for the defendants reiterate their claim that Beck’s lawsuit “fails to state a single plausible claim upon which relief can be granted.”
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