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Price v. Rochester Housing Authority

September 29, 2006

SONIA PRICE, ON HER OWN BEHALF, AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR CHILDREN, MARQUISE TORRES AND BRIONNA TORRES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROCHESTER HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marian W. Payson United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION & ORDER

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

Plaintiff Sonia Price has filed suit against the Rochester Housing Authority ("RHA"), Thomas F. McHugh, the Executive Director of RHA, and Michael Tonovitz, Director of Leased Housing for RHA, seeking a declaratory judgment, permanent injunctive relief and monetary damages on behalf of herself and her minor children. (Docket # 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to have a United States magistrate judge conduct all further proceedings in this case, including the entry of final judgment. (Docket # 9). Currently before this Court is Price's motion for partial summary judgment. (Docket # 14). For the reasons discussed below, Price's motion is granted.

In support of her motion for summary judgment, Price has submitted a Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute as required by Rule 56.1(a) of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure (the "Local Rules"). (Docket # 14-3). RHA has failed to submit a statement of undisputed facts, nor has it raised any objections to the facts asserted by Price. Thus, the factual assertions submitted by Price are accepted as true.*fn1 See Local Rule56.1(c) (providing that all uncontroverted material facts set forth in the moving party's statement will be deemed admitted); Giannullo v. City of New York, 322 F.3d 139, 140 (2d Cir. 2003) ("If the opposing party [] fails to controvert a fact so set forth in the moving party's Rule 56.1 statement, that fact will be deemed admitted").

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

According to the uncontested record before this Court, Price is a recovering substance abuser who was referred by the Salvation Army to participate in the Shelter Plus Care program. The Shelter Plus Care program was created by Congress in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11403 et seq., to provide rental housing assistance to homeless persons with disabilities, "primarily, those persons who are seriously mentally ill, have chronic problems with alcohol, drugs, or both, or have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS] and related diseases and the families of such persons" (the "Shelter Plus Care Program" or the "Program"). 42 U.S.C. § 11403. Locally, the Program is administered by defendant RHA. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 2).

Several years prior to the events in question, Price participated in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program (the "Section 8 Program"), a rent subsidy program also administered by RHA. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 23). See 42 U.S.C. § 1437f. As a participant in the Section 8 Program, Price received a monthly rental subsidy, which was paid directly to her landlord. The Section 8 Program requires its participants to comply with certain rules and regulations known as "Family Obligations." (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 24). One of these obligations is that Section 8 participants must notify RHA prior to moving from a residence for which they are receiving a rental subsidy. Failure to provide such notification constitutes a program violation and may result in the participant's termination from the program. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 27). In the case at bar, RHA alleges that in early 2002, while participating in the Section 8 Program, Price vacated her apartment without notifying RHA. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 26, Ex. J).

Although both the Section 8 Program and the Shelter Plus Care Program are federally funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), they are distinct programs, administered separately and are subject to different regulatory requirements. The Section 8 Program is administered by the HUD Office of Public and Indian Housing, while the Shelter Plus Care Program is administered by the Office of Community Planning and Development. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 38). In addition, unlike the Section 8 Program, the Shelter Plus Care Program requires a "supportive services" component and is coordinated jointly with a social services provider, such as the Salvation Army. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 39).

By statute, RHA (as the local administrator of the Shelter Plus Care Program) is authorized to terminate a Program participant if he or she violates Program requirements provided that RHA follows "a formal process that recognizes the rights of individuals receiving such assistance to due process of law. 42 U.S.C. § 11403f(a) and (b). HUD regulations governing the administration of the Shelter Plus Care Program specify that "at a minimum" the process must consist of:

(1) Written notice to the participant containing a clear statement of the reasons for termination;

(2) A review of the decision, in which the participant is given the opportunity to present written or oral objections before a person other than the person (or a subordinate of that person) who made or approved the termination decision; and

(3) Prompt written notice of the final decision to the participant. 24 C.F.R. § 582.320(b). Moreover, the regulations provide that housing assistance should only be terminated "in the most severe cases." Id.

Price was referred to the Shelter Plus Care Program by the Salvation Army on October 8, 2003 and was accepted into the Program on November 1, 2003. Shortly thereafter, Price received a notice of termination from RHA dated November 20, 2003. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶¶ 2-3, Ex. D). According to Price, the notice did not clearly state the reasons for the termination, the right to request a hearing to challenge the termination or the right to request a reasonable accommodation in connection with that decision. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶¶ 44-45, Ex. D).

Upon receipt of the termination notice, Price retained counsel. By letter from her counsel dated December 22, 2003, Price requested a hearing and notice of the regulation or provision relied upon by RHA to terminate Price's rental subsidy. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 47, Ex. E). Two days later, RHA issued an amended termination notice advising Price of her right to request a hearing within ten days. The amended notice also indicated that the reason for the termination was because Price "was not eligible for rental assistance at the time of [the] initial interview." (Docket # 14-3 at ¶48, Ex. F). On December 28, 2003, Price again requested a hearing. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 49).

Meanwhile, by letter dated January 8, 2004, Price was notified by her landlord that her rent had not timely been paid and that her tenancy would be terminated if payment were not promptly received. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 6, Ex. G). Prior to the hearing, Price's counsel made repeated requests that Price's rental subsidy be reinstated pending the outcome of the hearing and that her prior violation of the Section 8 requirements be disregarded as a reasonable accommodation of her disability pursuant to the Federal Fair Housing Act. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶¶ 8-9, 53, 62). Price was never evicted from her apartment.*fn2

A hearing was conducted before RHA Hearing Officer Michael Reifenstein, Esq. on February 3, 2004. During the hearing, RHA advised Price's counsel that her requests for a reasonable accommodation and for the continuation of the subsidy pending the outcome of the hearing had been denied. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶¶ 64-65). On February 18, 2004, Hearing Officer Reifenstein issued a written determination confirming the termination of Price's Shelter Plus Care subsidy. (Docket # 14-3 at ¶ 10, Ex. J). According to Reifenstein's determination, because Price had previously been ...


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