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Pittman v. Swan River, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 5, 2019

DEANDRA PITTMAN
v.
SWAN RIVER, LLC

         SECTION: “J” (3)

          ORDER & REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER, UNITED STATfES) DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 31) filed by Defendant, Swan River LLC (“Swan River”), an opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 33) filed by Plaintiff, Deandra Pittman (“Plaintiff”), and a reply (Rec. Doc. 38) by Swan River. Having considered the motions and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Swan River's motion for summary judgment should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The instant litigation arises out of Plaintiff's lease dispute with Swan River. Swan River operates facilities in New Orleans in which it leases space to small business owners.[1] Plaintiff was a lessee at one of Swan River's facilities, located at 2940 Canal Street (“the Facility”). Plaintiff entered into a year-long lease with Swan River on February 22, 2012. The lease contained no automatic renewal provisions. (Rec. Doc. 33-2). Upon the expiration of that lease, Plaintiff continued to operate her business out of the Facility with the permission of Swan River. Thus, on February 23, 2013 Plaintiff's lease became a reconducted lease and operated as such for the next 29 months. See La. Civ. Code. Art. 2721.

         On July 22, 2015, Alexandra Porteous (“Porteous”), a member and manager of Swan River, alerted Plaintiff via email that Swan River was going to be executing new leases beginning on September 1, 2015 and invited her to enter into one. (Rec. Doc. 31-5). Accompanying Swan River's offer to lease was a requirement that Plaintiff sign a “key agreement”[2] and promise not to have any employees. Porteous told Plaintiff these restrictions were due to security concerns and were being required of all potential lessees. (Rec. Doc. 31-5). After several emails back and forth, it became clear Plaintiff believed Swan River was only imposing these new restrictions because Plaintiff had hired an African-American employee named Mark Percy (“Percy”). Plaintiff alleged there was never an issue with her hiring employees and giving out keys before she hired Percy. Id.

         Porteous assured Plaintiff this was not the case, and that all lessees were required to sign a new lease and to abide by the restrictions. On July 31, 2015, Plaintiff wrote, “I will not be renewing a lease under your newfound conditions. Rent will be paid before the 3rd of the month as usual and I will evacuate the premises under duress by September 1, 2015.” (Rec. Doc. 31-5).

         On August 30th, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action in New Orleans First City Court. As service was not accomplished until August 30th, 2017, Swan River timely removed the case to this Court on September 15th, 2017. Plaintiff's original state court petition alleged general violations of federal and state anti-discrimination law, as well as a state law claim for constructive eviction. On August 13, 2018, the Court ordered Plaintiff to amend her complaint to state with more precision the federal laws she states a claim under. (Rec. Doc. 15).[3] Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, filed on August 28, 2018, asked for relief under the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Rec. Doc. 17).

         On April 9, 2019, the Court issued an Order and Reasons (Rec. Doc. 24) granting Swan River's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Rec. Doc. 18). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's Title VII and Fourteenth Amendment claims in their entirety, but gave Plaintiff leave to file a Second Amended Complaint supporting her claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint on April 18, 2019, and it is that Second Amended Complaint that is the subject of Swan River's present Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Swan River argues it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Section 1981 claims for two reasons. First, it argues Plaintiff's Section 1981 claims are barred by the relevant statute of limitations. In the alternative, Swan River maintains that the evidence in the record does not support Plaintiff's intentional discrimination claims under Section 1981.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, a court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or “showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party.” Id. at 1265.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See Id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon ...


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