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Sheppard v. Kwok

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

July 9, 2019

WILLIAM R. SHEPPARD, et al., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TAI-CHI KWOK, et al, DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiffs, William R. Sheppard and Victoria Sheppard, filed this action under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242, and the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604 against defendants, Tai-Chi Kwok and Lee Kwok. They also include state law claims for false accusation of criminal activity, defamation of character, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In the complaint, the Sheppards allege the Kwoks had them arrested and prosecuted after they, without authorization, entered a house that the Kwoks had listed for sale. (Doc. No. 1 (Complaint [“Compl.”]).) The Sheppards contend the Kwoks discriminated against them in the sale of their house on the basis of race and disability, and falsely accused them of committing a crime. They seek monetary damages. (Id. at 24.[1])

         The Kwoks filed a motion for summary judgement asserting the Sheppards' claims fail as a matter of law. (Doc. No.10 [“MSJ”].) First, they contend they did not discriminate against the Sheppards in the sale of their home. They state they did not refuse to show the home to the Sheppards through proper channels and the Sheppards did not submit an offer to purchase the property. Second, they assert the Sheppards cannot proceed under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242, as these are criminal statutes and do not apply in a civil action. Third, they deny they made untruthful statements needed to support claims of false accusations and defamation. They state the Sheppards were not authorized to be on the property and the criminal charges against them for trespass were based on truthful statements. Finally, the Kwoks contend that any emotional distress the Sheppards suffered was a result of their own actions, not those of Christine Lee-Kwok. They further assert that Lee-Kwok's reaction of becoming angry and reporting the repeated trespasses to the police was not extreme or outrageous conduct needed to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs did not oppose the motion. For the reasons stated below, defendants' summary judgment motion is granted, and this action is dismissed.

         I. Background

         In June 2018, the Kwoks listed their residence at 5610 Appian Way, Sharon Center, Ohio for sale with Keller Williams real estate agent Daniela Margos. The asking price for the house was $1, 795, 000.00. The Kwoks had purchased a house down the street in the same neighborhood and had relocated to their new residence, leaving some furnishings and personal items in the house listed for sale. The Sheppards toured the home on June 7, 2018, accompanied by their real estate agent. However, they did not make an offer to purchase the house after the tour. (MSJ at 92.)

         The Kwoks, through Margos, held an open house in July 2018. The Sheppards attended the open house. Through their real estate agent, the Sheppards informed Margos that they were cash buyers and submitted a letter purporting to substantiate means to purchase a home valued at $1, 800, 000.00. (Id.). Despite this conversation between realtors, the Sheppards did not make an offer to purchase the house.

         On August 25, 2018, the Sheppards returned to the house to view the property, this time without an appointment. They indicate they were on their way to Cleveland to celebrate Victoria Sheppard's birthday and decided to take another look at the house. They pulled around to the back of the house and let themselves in through an unlocked back door. Victoria Sheppard sat down at the kitchen island while her husband went down to the basement to look around, contending he had seen peeling wall paper and a humidifier on their first two visits and wanted to inspect for mold. (Compl. at 7-8.)

         Tai-Chi Kwok stopped by to check on the house at 2:00 p.m. He entered the driveway and drove to the garage doors, which are located behind the house. There he discovered a maroon Mazda CX9. Although he was not expecting anyone to be there, he initially thought it belonged to a woman who was working on the house. When he entered the house, however, he discovered Victoria Sheppard sitting in the kitchen. She informed him that her husband was inspecting the house. Tai-Chi Kwok found William Sheppard, and Sheppard explained he was inspecting the property. (MSJ at 92.) He showed Kwok what he believed to be mold. Kwok indicated the cost to correct any potential mold problems could be negotiated into the final price and invited Sheppard to make an offer. (Compl. at 8-9.) The Sheppards declined to make an offer and left without incident. Tai-Chi Kwok filed a report of the incident at the Medina County Sheriff's Department the following day. Although he declined to press charges, he found the incident troubling and wanted it to be documented in the event something later occurred. (MSJ at 93.)

         Six days later, on August 31, 2018, the Sheppards again returned to the Appian Way house without an appointment and unaccompanied by either their real estate agent or Margos. They indicate Victoria Sheppard wanted to look at the outside of the house and to pray over it. (Compl. at 10.) Christine Lee-Kwok was driving down the street and saw the Sheppard's car pull into the driveway of the Appian Way house. She pulled her car in behind Sheppard's car. Victoria Sheppard got out of her car and approached Christine Lee-Kwok who was still in her vehicle. After Sheppard introduced herself, Lee-Kwok asked Sheppard why she was at the house and Sheppard replied that she and her husband wanted to look at it again. Lee-Kwok informed Sheppard that she and her husband were trespassing, and she was calling the police. (MSJ. at 93.) A heated discussion ensued, with Lee-Kwok reiterating that the Sheppards were trespassing and she was going to call the police. (Compl. at 11-12.) William Sheppard asked his wife to get back in the car, which she did, and they immediately left the property. Lee-Kwok photographed the Sheppards' license plate and emailed that photograph to the Medina County Sheriff's Department. A deputy informed the Kwoks that they would review both reports and determine how to proceed. (MSJ at 94.)

         The Medina County Sheriff's Office conducted its own investigation into the matter and in conjunction with the Medina County prosecutor's office decided to charge the Sheppards each with two counts of trespass. A bench trial was conducted on December 17, 2018. At the conclusion of testimony, the judge convicted both Sheppards of two counts of trespass. Each was fined $100.00 and assessed court costs. (MSJ, Ex. C.)

         In their complaint, the Sheppards contend the Kwoks discriminated against them in the sale of their home on the basis of their race and Victoria Sheppard's disability. They claim that Tai-Chi Kwok never told them to leave and did not tell them they were not welcome on the property at all. (Compl. at 9.) After their second unscheduled visit to the home and their encounter with Christine Lee- Kwok, the Sheppards claim they determined that “as Black people they were no longer allowed to view the luxurious property.” (Id. at 11.) They indicate Christine Lee-Kwok “made it clear she did not want Black or disabled people on her property, or look at, considering purchase of her house.” (Id. at 12.) Plaintiffs contend they came to this conclusion because the Kwoks called the police after they introduced themselves and left the property. They assert claims for housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), deprivation of rights under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242, false accusation of burglary, defamation of character, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Compl. at 13-22.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment and provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment must initially demonstrate that there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d (1986). Once the moving party meets this burden, to survive summary judgment, the party opposing the motion must produce admissible evidence - not merely allegations or denials in pleadings - demonstrating a triable issue. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

         Rule 56 does not require that discovery be closed, or that there be any discovery, before a court rules on a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b) (“a party may file a motion for summary judgment at any time until 30 days after the close of all discovery”); Jefferson v. Chattanooga Publ'g Co., 375 F.3d 461, 463 (6th Cir. 2004) (“it is well-established that a motion for summary judgment may be filed prior to discovery”). Ruling on a summary judgment motion may be improper where the nonmoving party has not had sufficient time to engage in discovery. Jefferson, 375 F.3d at 463. However, if the nonmoving party claims an inability to present facts essential to oppose a motion for summary judgment, it is the nonmoving party's ...


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