Complaint

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Dianna Shonville Jones, Plaintiff, vs. Paul Bertelson and Mission Inn Minnesota, Inc., Defendants.

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STATE OF MINNESOTA COUNTY OF HENNEPIN

DISTRICT COURT FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT CASE TYPE: OTHER CIVIL

Dianna Shonville Jones, Plaintiff, vs.

Court File No: __________

COMPLAINT Paul Bertelson and Mission Inn Minnesota, Inc., Defendants.

INTRODUCTION 1. This is an action for declaratory relief under the Social Security provisions of the United States Code and declaratory relief and damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Minnesota Vulnerable Adults Act and civil conversion. Plaintiff Dianna Shonville Jones is a disabled person. Her monthly disability payments come to her as credits on a Direct Express debit card issued through disability benefit programs administered by the Social Security Administration. The Defendants are a landlord and his management company. Defendants demanded and received from Ms. Jones her Direct Express debit card and PIN number as a condition of renting an apartment to her. The debit card was not returned to Ms. Jones when she requested and for the next three months Defendants withdrew nearly all available monies from the debit card account, well beyond what was owed in rent. When Ms. Jones cancelled the Direct Express debit card the landlord was using, Defendants continued to press her to turn her new card over to them. Defendants also put in Ms. Jones’ name, without her permission and weeks before she was to take

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occupancy, the electrical bill for the apartment. Due to problems with the building’s wiring, Ms. Jones was billed for electricity to the entire duplex property, resulting in excessive electricity bills that she could not afford to pay and then months without electricity. Lack of electricity, along with other inhabitable conditions at the property, forced Ms. Jones and her family out of their home and after months of periodic homelessness the tenancy ended in October 2013. These actions violate provisions of the Social Security disability benefit laws, the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Vulnerable Adults Act, and constitute civil conversion. Plaintiff therefore seeks a declaratory judgment establishing her rights. She also requests compensatory and punitive damages, as well as civil damages, and she seeks to recover statutory attorney’s fees and costs. APPLICABLE LAW 2. This Complaint is brought pursuant to the prohibition on assignment of benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 407 and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(d)(1); the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363A.09; and the private cause of action for financial exploitation under the Minnesota Vulnerable Adults Act, Minn. Stat. 626.557, subd. 20. 3. The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 407(a) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(d)(1), provides that future payments to persons qualifying for Social Security disability insurance payments or supplemental security income payments shall not be transferable or assignable. 4. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Minn. Stat. § 363A.09, protects individuals against discrimination in real property sales and rental agreements. Members of protected classes, including those who are disabled and receive public assistance, are protected against rental practices by owners who require different terms and conditions of

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rental on the basis of a person’s status as belonging to a protected class. 5. The Minnesota Vulnerable Adults Act (“VAA”), Minn. Stat. § 626.557, subd. 20, provides a cause of action for a vulnerable adult who is the victim of financial exploitation as it is defined in Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 9. 6. The VAA provides for recovery of compensatory damages and statutory damages equal to three times the amount of the compensatory damages or $10,000, whichever is greater. 7. The Minnesota Legislature has given special attention to the pervasive issue of financial exploitation against vulnerable persons. Financial exploitation includes a broad array of practices and actions designed to separate vulnerable persons from their financial resources. This private cause of action went into effect in 2009 to further the public policy declared by the VAA. The VAA is designed to “protect adults, who because of physical or mental disability . . . are particularly vulnerable to maltreatment . . . (and) to assist in providing safe environments for vulnerable adults.” Minn. Stat. § 626.557, subd. 1. FACTS The Parties and Property at Issue 8. Plaintiff Dianna Shonville Jones (“Ms. Jones”) is a 32 year old single adult. 9. Ms. Jones has four children, Davonta Street (17), Briyana Hollins (15), Jabarie Hollins (8) and Destiny Ford (3). 10. In 2013, Ms. Jones lived in an apartment with her children at 2818 Colfax Ave. N., #2, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55411, Hennepin County. 11. Defendant Mission Inn Minnesota, Inc. (“Mission Inn Minnesota”), is a domestic business corporation registered with the Secretary of State with a mailing address of 4630

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3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55419. Mission Inn Minnesota owns the residential building at 2818 Colfax Ave. N., a Minneapolis residential building with two separate housing units. 12. Mission Inn Minnesota also owns other property in Minnesota. 13. Mission Inn Minnesota buys foreclosed properties in Minneapolis and rents them to lowincome tenants. 14. Defendant Paul Bertelson (“Defendant Bertelson”) is Chief Executive Officer and Registered Agent of Mission Inn Minnesota. His business address is 4630 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55419. Ms. Jones is Disabled and is a Vulnerable Adult. 15. Ms. Jones has been diagnosed with major depression and obsessive compulsive disorder with grief reaction, brain injury and other medical disorders that materially limit one or more of her major life activities. 16. Ms. Jones’ mental illness and brain injury cause her to be very forgetful and keep her from thinking clearly and making decisions. 17. The VAA, Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 21, defines vulnerable adults as individuals over the age of 18 who receive certain care or services or who have physical or mental impairments that impair their ability to adequately provide care and services for themselves and make them susceptible to maltreatment. 18. Ms. Jones is a vulnerable adult as defined in Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 21(4), suffering from mental illness and brain injury that impair her ability to provide adequately for her own care without assistance.

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19. Ms. Jones is a vulnerable adult as defined in Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 21(3), in that she receives personal care assistant services. 20. Because of these mental and physical infirmities and the need for care and services, Ms. Jones has an impaired ability to protect herself from maltreatment. Ms. Jones Receives Public Assistance. 21. Ms. Jones’ family income comes from several kinds of public assistance. She receives income from Social Security because she is disabled and meets the economic guidelines required for this federal benefit. 22. Ms. Jones receives income from Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) because she is disabled and because she is insured due to wages she paid into the Social Security trust fund. The amount of her monthly SSDI payment is based on her lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. 23. Ms. Jones receives additional income from Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) because she is disabled and because her previous wage earnings were below a certain amount. 24. Ms. Jones’ family income also includes income from SSI because her child, Jabarie Hollins, is disabled and meets the economic guidelines for this federal benefit. 25. Ms. Jones receives food support and benefits from the Minnesota Family Investment Program (“MFIP”) for care and support of her children. The cash portion of the MFIP benefits Ms. Jones receives from MFIP are in the form of vendored rent payments sent directly from Hennepin County to her housing provider. 26. The income from SSI is distributed to Ms. Jones on the first day of each month. Her SSDI is distributed to her on the first or the third day of each month.

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27. Ms. Jones’ only way to access SSI and SSDI benefits distributed to her is by using her Direct Express debit card with the proper PIN number. 28. The Direct Express debit card program allows Social Security to deposit Ms. Jones’ federal SSI and SSDI benefits directly into the account. 29. Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card can be used as any other debit card with the proper PIN number. Defendant Bertelson leased an apartment to Ms. Jones on condition that she give him her Direct Express debit card and PIN number. 30. In January 2013, Ms. Jones was searching for housing for herself and her four children. She was homeless, living with friends and in shelters. 31. On or about January 8, 2013, Ms. Jones met Defendant Bertelson at the apartment of her friend who was renting from him. She asked him if he had a 4-5 bedroom rental available. Defendant Bertelson said that he had a 5 bedroom rental available at 2818 Colfax Ave. N. 32. Later that day, on or about January 8, 2013, Ms. Jones met Defendant Bertelson at the property. Defendant Bertelson showed Ms. Jones the upper level of the duplex property, which was the unit available to rent. Ms. Jones told Defendant Bertelson that she had several evictions on her record. 33. On or about January 11, 2013, Ms. Jones faxed to Defendant Bertelson a rental application. The information Ms. Jones sent to Defendant Bertelson included information about the source of her income, which was from Social Security and MFIP. 34. On or about January 11, 2013, on information and belief, Defendant Bertelson contacted Xcel Energy to put the billing for electricity to the upper unit at 2818 Colfax Ave. N. in Ms. Jones’ name, unbeknownst to her. At this time, Ms. Jones did not yet occupy the 6

unit. The electricity service for the unit was in Ms. Jones’ name effective January 12, 2013. 35. After faxing to Defendant Bertelson her rental application, Ms. Jones called Defendant Bertelson several times to follow up about renting the property. Defendant Bertelson told Ms. Jones that he would rent to her and she started giving him money as she obtained it to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent. 36. By about January 24, 2013, Ms. Jones had given Defendant Bertelson a total of approximately $1,700.00, which included $800.00 from Emergency Assistance from Hennepin County. On or about January 24, 2013, Defendant Bertelson told Ms. Jones she had three days to get him the additional $300.00 she owed or he would rent to someone else. Ms. Jones then sold her truck for $300.00. 37. On or about January 29, 2003, Defendant Bertelson came to the apartment of Ms. Jones’ friend, where she was staying, to collect the remaining $300.00. At that time he asked her how she would pay rent each month and told her because she had so many unlawful detainers on her record it was mandatory that she turn over a bank card that had $1,000.00 or more on it. Ms. Jones told Defendant Bertelson that she had a Social Security benefits card and gave him her Direct Express debit card with her PIN number written down on a post-it note and wrapped around the card. 38. Ms. Jones was fearful that she and her children would remain homeless if she did not comply with this mandatory requirement. 39. On or about February 1, 2013, Defendant Bertelson met Ms. Jones at the property to hand over keys to the unit.

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40. On or about February 8, 2013, Justin Bryant, an employee of Mission Inn Minnesota, brought Ms. Jones two copies of a lease agreement for her to sign. The lease stated the monthly rental amount was $1,000.00. On one copy there was an additional lease term, “Tenant agrees to provide SSI card to landlord. Landlord will gather funds from card to pay rent in full.” On the other copy, this additional lease term was not present; this was the document that Mr. Bryant indicated Ms. Jones was to sign and return. 41. Ms. Jones signed both leases and returned to Mr. Bryant the lease agreement without the additional lease term about providing her SSI card to the landlord. 42. Upon information and belief, unlike the conditions placed upon Ms. Jones’ tenancy, other tenants of Mission Inn, Minnesota who did not receive public assistance were not forced or required to give Defendant Bertelson control of any money or funds in order to rent from him, except the monthly rent. 43. From the moment Defendant Bertelson took the Direct Express debit card on or about January 29, 2013, until her cancellation of that card became effective in April 2013, Ms. Jones had no access to any of her SSI or SSDI funds. 44. Upon information and belief, only Defendant Bertelson or his agents in his control had access to and controlled Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card, PIN number, and the funds in the account during the time between approximately January 29, 2013 and April 2013. Defendant Bertelson Depleted Ms. Jones’ February SSI and SSDI funds and Failed to Return the Direct Express debit card. 45. On or about February 1, 2013, Ms. Jones received in her Direct Express account a total of $1,369.50 in disability benefits from Social Security. 46. On or about February 1, 2013, $442.00 was sent by Hennepin County to Defendant Mission Inn Minnesota as a vendored rent payment on Ms. Jones’ behalf out of her MFIP 8

benefits. 47. By the end of February 2, 2013, Ms. Jones’ Direct Express account had been nearly emptied, in two separate withdrawals. 48. Upon information and belief, all withdrawals made with Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card in February 2013, an amount totaling $1,368.00, were made by Defendant Bertelson or agents in his control. This amount was taken from Ms. Jones’ account despite the fact that she had already paid first month’s rent and despite the February vendored rent payment from Hennepin County. 49. On or about February 3, 2013, Ms. Jones called Defendant Bertelson and asked him to return her Direct Express card and pay her the excess that had been withdrawn from the account. Defendant Bertelson did not return the card nor return her money to her. Rather, he told her that if the card were returned to her she would have to move out. 50. To preserve the housing she had for herself and her family, Ms. Jones stayed. Over the next few months Ms. Jones subsequently requested on several occasions that her Direct Express card be returned; the card was not returned to her. Defendant Bertelson Depleted Ms. Jones’ March SSI and SSDI funds. 51. On or about March 1, 2013, Ms. Jones received in her Direct Express account a total of $1,374.60 in disability benefits from Social Security. 52. On or about March 1, 2013, $352.00 was sent by Hennepin County to Defendant Mission Inn Minnesota as a vendored rent payment on Ms. Jones’ behalf out of her MFIP benefits. 53. On or about March 1, 2013, Ms. Jones’ Direct Express account was nearly emptied, in two separate withdrawals.

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54. Upon information and belief, all withdrawals made with Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card in March 2013, an amount totaling $1,366.00, were made by Defendant Bertelson or agents in his control. This amount was taken from Ms. Jones’ account in excess of what she owed in rent. Defendant Bertelson Depleted Ms. Jones’ April SSI and SSDI funds. 55. In late March 2013, Ms. Jones acted to have her Direct Express debit card cancelled and have a new card issued to her, but this cancellation did not become effective for some days. 56. On or about the 1st and 3rd of April, 2013, Ms. Jones received in her Direct Express account a total of $1,329.20 in disability benefits from Social Security. 57. On or about April 1, 2013, $352.00 was sent by Hennepin County to Defendant Mission Inn Minnesota as a vendored rent payment on Ms. Jones’ behalf out of her MFIP benefits. 58. By the end of April 3, 2013, Ms. Jones’ Direct Express account had been nearly emptied, in two separate withdrawals. 59. Upon information and belief, all withdrawals made with Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card in early April 2013, an amount totaling $1,327.50, were made by Defendant Bertelson or agents in his control. This amount was taken from Ms. Jones’ account in excess of what she owed in rent. 60. At some point between February 1, 2013 and the end of April 2013 Defendant Bertelson gave Ms. Jones $82.00 in cash that he indicated was an overpayment from Hennepin County.

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61. When cancellation of Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card became effective and her new card was issued, there was an ending balance of only $11.80 in the account. 62. Even after the Direct Express debit card was cancelled, Defendant Bertelson and/or agents in his control asked Ms. Jones on several occasions until late May 2013 to hand over her new debit card. Ms. Jones refused to do so. Conditions at 2818 Colfax Ave. N. led to condemnation of the property and Ms. Jones and her family moved out October 1, 2013. 63. The upper unit at the property that Ms. Jones moved into on or about February 1, 2013, was infested with mice and bedbugs. The unit also had electrical problems; electrical sockets sparked and produced electric shocks when lights were switched on. The front porch balcony at the property was crumbling. After a window fell out, birds and rain came into the kitchen. Despite repeated calls to Defendant Bertelson and his maintenance man over the next months, repairs were not made. 64. Because of problems in the building’s electrical wiring, Ms. Jones was billed for electricity for both units at 2818 Colfax Ave. N., which resulted in electricity bills that were excessive and wrongly charged to Ms. Jones. 65. In July 2013, Ms. Jones was unable to pay the electric bill and the electricity was shut off at the property on or about July 25, 2013. In the following months, electricity at the property was sporadic. During that time when the electricity was out Ms. Jones was homeless, living with friends, in hotels and in homeless shelters. 66. On or about July 29, 2013, the City of Minneapolis cited Defendant Bertelson for a number of ordinance code violations at 2818 Colfax Ave. N. 67. In mid-September, Ms. Jones received notice that the property was to be condemned due to lack of electricity. 11

68. On or about October 1, 2013, Ms. Jones’s tenancy ended and she moved her family’s remaining possessions out of the upper unit at 2818 Colfax Ave. N. 69. Ms. Jones secured new housing and moved in as of November 1, 2013. 70. During the time she rented from Defendants, Ms. Jones felt particularly fearful, anxious and angry because of the money she had lost, her lack of control of her Direct Express debit card and living situation, and her inability to provide for her children. This caused her to experience an increase in the amount and intensity of her mental illness and depressive episodes, exacerbated her high blood pressure and contributed to the worsening of other medical problems. 71. During February and most of March 2013, feeling more depressed, confused and helpless, Ms. Jones did not take any action to enforce her right to control her own funds. 72. Because Ms. Jones did not have access to funds in her Direct Express account from about January 29, 2013 through early April 2013, she was unable to pay the outstanding balance on fees of approximately $434.38 that she had incurred to store furniture, toys and personal possessions pending her move to new housing in early 2013. All these items, including family birth certificates and Social Security cards, were consequently lost when the storage company auctioned them off. Many of these items, such as treasured family photos, can never be replaced. 73. In their actions towards Ms. Jones, Defendants Bertelson and Mission Inn, Minnesota acted with deliberate disregard for her rights.

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FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION Discrimination on Basis of a Disability Through Different Terms and Conditions of Rental Agreement Minn. Stat. § 363A.09, Subd. 1(2) 74. Paragraphs 1 through 73 of the Complaint are incorporated and restated as if set forth fully herein. 75. Defendants discriminated against Ms. Jones on the basis of her disability, in the terms and conditions of her rental agreement, by conditioning the rental agreement with various requirements, including but not limited to the requirement that Ms. Jones surrender her Direct Express debit card and corresponding PIN number in order to rent housing. 76. Defendants Bertelson and Mission Inn Minnesota have committed unfair and discriminatory practices in violation of Minn. Stat. § 363A.09, subd. 1(2). SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION Discrimination with Regard to Public Assistance Through Different Terms and Conditions of Rental Agreement Minn. Stat. § 363A.09, Subd. 1(2) 77. Paragraphs 1 through 76 of the Complaint are incorporated and restated as if set forth fully herein. 78. Defendants discriminated against Ms. Jones on the basis of her status as a recipient of public assistance in the form of Social Security disability benefits, in the terms and conditions of her rental agreement, by requiring Ms. Jones to surrender her Direct Express debit card and corresponding PIN number in order to rent housing. 79. Defendants Bertelson and Mission Inn Minnesota have committed unfair and discriminatory practices in violation of Minn. Stat. § 363A.09, subd. 1(2).

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THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION Financial Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult Violations of Minn. Stat. § 626.557, Subd. 20 80. Paragraphs 1 through 79 of the Complaint are incorporated and restated as if set forth fully herein. 81. Ms. Jones is a vulnerable adult as defined in Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 21. 82. Defendants Bertelson and Mission Inn Minnesota’s actions constitute financial exploitation of Ms. Jones as defined in Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 9(b). 83. Defendants Bertelson and Mission Inn Minnesota’s exploitative actions entitled Ms. Jones to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $10,000, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION Conversion 84. Paragraphs 1 through 83 of the Complaint are incorporated and restated as if set forth fully herein. 85. Ms. Jones had a legal right to keep control of the Social Security disability benefits she received for herself and on behalf of her disabled child. 86. By refusing to return Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card and withdrawing amounts over and above what he was legally entitled to, Defendant Bertelson exercised control of those funds from Ms. Jones’ Direct Express account that was contrary to her right to that property and intentionally deprived her possession of that property indefinitely. 87. Defendant Bertelson’s conduct resulted in a conversion of Ms. Jones’ personal funds.

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REQUEST FOR RELIEF WHEREFORE, Ms. Jones requests that this Court grant her judgment against the Defendants and relief, including, but not limited to, the following: A. Declaratory Judgment pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 555.01 that Defendants have: a. Violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 407(a) and 1383(d)(1) by demanding Ms. Jones’ Direct Express debit card to collect future Social Security disability benefits as they became due to her, and by refusing to return her debit card after each request; b. Discriminated against Ms. Jones, on account of her disability and status as receiving public assistance in the form of Social Security disability benefits, in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act; and c. Financially exploited Ms. Jones, a vulnerable adult, in violation of the Vulnerable Adult Act; B. Awarding Plaintiff damages from Defendants in excess of $50,000; C. Awarding Plaintiff compensatory damages, including damages for conversion, to be determined at trial and damages equal to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $10,000, whichever is greater; D. Awarding punitive damages in the amount of Twenty-Five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00), pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 363A.33, subd. 6, and Minn. Stat. § 363A.29, subd. 4. E. Awarding Plaintiff and her counsel reasonable costs and attorney’s fees; and F. Such other relief as the Court determines to be just and reasonable.

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MID-MINNESOTA LEGAL AID

Dated:_____________________,

__________________________________ Anne M. Robertson Attorney License No. 212775 430 First Avenue North, Suite 300 Minneapolis, MN 55401 (612) 746-3725 Attorney for Plaintiff, Dianna Shonville Jones

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The undersigned hereby acknowledges that sanctions may be awarded pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 549.211, subd. 1 to the opposing party if the party or their attorneys act in bad faith, assert a frivolous claim, assert an unfounded position to delay or harass, or commit a fraud upon the Court.

__________________________________ Anne M. Robertson
1305-0360827-1212953.docx

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