The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELFVIN
This is a class action certified under Fed.
This is a class action certified under Fed.R.Civ.P. rule 23(b)(2) alleging that the Niagara Falls Housing Authority ("the Authority"), a local public agency which owns and operates housing projects in the City of Niagara Falls, New York, has been violating the United States Housing Act of 1937 ("the Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1401 et seq., by charging its public housing tenants rental fees in excess of the statutory maximum.
Plaintiffs contend that the Authority without any statutory authorization added an arbitrary sum to the incomes of its public housing tenants in computing their family incomes. This so-called "annuity" was a percentage of the tenants' accumulated savings and investments over and above the actual interest incomes derived from such investments. The Authority has admitted that the addition of this percentage for purposes of calculating the family income figure was incorrect and has offered to reimburse its tenants for the excessive rents charged pursuant to the final directions of this Court. Recomputation hereby is ordered.
Plaintiffs next assert that the Authority's refusal to permit a deduction from a tenant's income for a dependent spouse is contrary to the express statutory requirements of the Act which mandates certain deductions in computing family income. Plaintiffs also allege that the Authority's definition of deductible medical expenses conflicts with regulations promulgated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") which define those medical expenses which are required to be deducted from a tenant's income and that the Authority's disallowance of medical insurance premiums as a deductible medical expense was erroneous. Plaintiffs further contend that HUD did not approve the April 1, 1973 rent modifications prior to their implementation by the Authority and that HUD's purported retroactive approval of such rent increases March 28, 1975, almost two years later, did not comport with the requirements of the Act. In addition, plaintiffs allege that the Authority did not comply with certain lease terms and notify its tenants 30 days prior to the rent increases that the rent schedule was being revised to eliminate rent ceilings. This matter is now before me on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. rule 56.
A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when the pleadings, depositions, affidavits and admissions on file 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. Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting, 368 U.S. 464, 82 S. Ct. 486, 7 L. Ed. 2d 458 (1962); Gladstone v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., 536 F.2d 1403 (2d Cir. 1976); Egelston v. State University College at Geneseo, 535 F.2d 752 (2d Cir. 1976); National Life Ins. Co. v. Solomon, 529 F.2d 59 (2d Cir. 1975). Where issues before the court are not factual but deal solely with questions of law, those legal issues may be appropriately resolved by summary judgment. Schwartz v. Associated Musicians of Greater N.Y., Local 802, 340 F.2d 228 (2d Cir. 1964). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. Judge v. City of Buffalo, 524 F.2d 1321 (2d Cir. 1975); Heyman v. Commerce and Industry Insurance Co., 524 F.2d 1317 (2d Cir. 1975).
Plaintiffs' contentions must be placed in a statutory context in order to resolve those questions of law which can be ruled upon on the instant motion.
Prior to 1969, the Act did not place an absolute ceiling on the amount of rent which could be charged, but merely required that
"* * * rents shall be fixed by the public housing agency and approved by the Authority after taking into consideration (A) the family size, composition, age, physical handicaps, and other factors which might affect the rent-paying ability of the family, and (B) the economic factors which affect the financial stability and solvency of the project."
A considerable amount of discretion to set an appropriate rent schedule was thus vested in the local public agency which owned and operated the particular housing project in question.
The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1969, P.L. 91-152, 83 Stat. 379, U.S. Code Cong. & Adm.News at 401, 91st Cong., 1st Sess. (1969), commonly known as the Brooke Amendment, fettered this discretion by placing an absolute ceiling on the amount of rent that could be charged for each dwelling unit by the local agency and by giving the Secretary of HUD the exclusive power to define a "family's income", on the basis of which the maximum allowable rent was to be pegged. It provided that such rents "may not exceed one-fourth of the family's income as defined by the Secretary". Section 213(a), Housing and Urban Development Act of 1969, U.S.Code Cong. & Adm.News at 413, 91st Cong. 1st Sess. (1969).(This provision, in a revised form, now is codified in 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(1).)
The Brooke Amendment, however, failed to say what deductions were to be taken note of and given effect to arrive at the family income figure. Pursuant to the statutory authority to define family income granted to it by such amendment, HUD established two deductions. In Circular RHM 7465.1, issued March 16, 1970, HUD defined family income as
"* * * income from all sources of each member of the family in the household, including minors, anticipated to be received during the twelve months following admission or redetermination of family income (as the case may be) less: (1) a deduction of 10 percent of family income; and (2) an exemption of $100 from family income for each minor (other than the head or spouse) and for each adult (other than the head or spouse) dependent upon family for support."
Thus, as of March 16, 1970, deductions were not permitted for dependent spouses under HUD's definition of family income.
Subsequent to HUD's 1970 Circular, Congress decided to override such definition of family income and again amended the Act by setting forth specific deductions which were to be excluded from total family income to arrive at the family income figure. Section 2(1) of the Act, as amended December 31, 1970 by Section 208(a) of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970, P.L. 91-609, 84 Stat. 1770, U.S.Code Cong. & Adm.News at 2079-80, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. (1970), provided:
"In defining income for the purposes of applying the one-fourth family income limitation set forth above, the Secretary shall consider income from all sources of each member of the family residing in the household who is at least eighteen years of age; except that (A) nonrecurring income, as determined by the Secretary, and the income of full-time students shall be excluded; (B) an amount equal to the sum of (i) $300 for each dependent, (ii) $300 for each secondary wage earner, (iii) 5 per centum of the family's gross income (10 per centum in the case of elderly families), and (iv) those medical expenses of the family properly considered extraordinary shall be deducted; and (C) the Secretary may allow further deductions in recognition of unusual circumstances."
In this 1970 legislation which superseded HUD's determination that a dependency deduction was not permitted for spouses, Congress expressly provided for a deduction "for each dependent" residing in the household without excluding from such $300 deduction any class of persons who were in fact dependents residing in the household. To implement this legislation, however, HUD issued Circular HM 7465.10 on March 16, 1971 and attempted to restrict the deductions pertaining to dependents and secondary wage earners which could be used by local housing agencies in calculating family income to:
"(v) An exemption of $300 for each dependent i.e., each minor (other than the head or spouse) and for each adult (other than the head or spouse) dependent upon the family for support; (vi) An exemption of $300 for each secondary wage earner. (A family member deemed to be a dependent under 'v' above is not to be included)."
Thus, HUD sought to exclude spouses from the definition of dependents and secondary wage earners and to render such family members ineligible for the $300 deductions prescribed by Congress notwithstanding that Congress had supplanted HUD's previous limitations with respect to dependents and secondary wage earners by choosing not to restrict the $300 deductions for dependents and secondary wage earners in Section 208(a) of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970.
The Act was subsequently amended when Congress passed the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, P.L. 93-383, 88 Stat. 654, U.S.Code Cong. & Adm.News at 713, 93rd Cong., 2d Sess. (1974). Section 3(1) of this legislation, U.S.Code Cong. & Adm.News at 738, 93rd Cong., 2d Sess. (1974), redefined family income with respect to mandated deductions for dependents and secondary wage earners as follows:
"In defining the income of any family for the purpose of this chapter, the Secretary shall consider income from all sources of each member of the family residing in the ...