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Rivers v. Doar

September 30, 2010

TANYA RIVERS, MIGUEL MERCARDO, LARRY GAINES, ROBERT RUDDOCK, LEE LUMBLEY, MICHAEL WILLIAMS, JUDY G., EDWIN (AKA "ERICA") VARGAS, AND VICTOR CAPO, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT DOAR, AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK OFFICE OF TEMPORARY AND DISABILITY ASSISTANCE, VERNA EGGLESTON, AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK CITY HUMAN RESOURCES ADMINISTRATION, AND ELSIE DEL CAMPO, AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK CITY HIV/AIDS SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Go, United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The plaintiffs, who live in federally supported housing for persons living with AIDS, bring this putative class action to enforce certain rent cap provisions found in Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et seq. ("Section 8") and appurtenant regulations promulgated pursuant to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS law, 42 U.S.C. § 12901 et seq. ("HOPWA"). The Honorable Frederic Block has referred to me for decision plaintiffs' motion for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1988.*fn1 See minute order dated May 19, 2010.

BACKGROUND

The pertinent facts are not disputed. Unless otherwise noted, the following background facts are taken from Judge Block's memorandum and order dismissing this action. See ct. doc. 45.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance ("OTDA") is a New York state agency which supervises the administration of public assistance programs available to low-income New York residents. In New York City, the public assistance programs are administered by the New York City Human Resources Administration ("HRA"). HRA determines the amount of financial assistance granted from public assistance funds to each eligible household and pays public assistance to New York City recipients out of local HRA funds. HRA is subsequently partially reimbursed by OTDA from state funds.

As part of its public assistance efforts, HRA provides supportive housing for people with HIV/AIDS, including plaintiffs. This housing is partially subsidized by the federal government via HOPWA grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") and by HRA which is subsequently reimbursed by OTDA. For many years, HRA had required plaintiffs and others living in such housing to contribute only up to 30% of their monthly income toward their rent.

Following an audit, in 2004, OTDA concluded that HRA's expenditures on HIV/AIDS supportive housing were too high and directed HRA to increase the monthly contribution that tenants were required to pay toward their rent. OTDA began withholding reimbursement from HRA until it imposed such increases.

In early October 2006, the plaintiffs received notice from HRA that the formula for rental assistance would change from the cap of 30% of income and, beginning November 1, 2006, recipients would be required to contribute all of their income, save $330, toward their rent. Such a change would cause the plaintiffs to contribute a larger portion of their subsistence income on rent.

Plaintiffs commenced this action on October 30, 2006, claiming that HRA's stated intent to change the cap on required rental contributions of clients living in supportive housing violated federal law. See ct. doc. 1. Proceeding by order to show cause, plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting any changes to the 30% cap on rent contributions of the plaintiffs. See ct. doc. 5.

Later that day at approximately 3:30 p.m., Judge Block held a hearing at which counsel for the both the City and State defendants appeared. Counsel for the City defendants, who had just received the motion papers, advised the Court that his clients would be willing "to agree to, pending the outcome of this litigation, continue with the status quo," pointing out that the OTDA forced the City to implement a change in its policy by withholding more than $150 million in reimbursement funds from HRA. Transcript of Order to Show Cause Hearing held on October 30, 2006 ("Tr.") at 7, 13, 28-29. Contending that the State had no involvement in implementing the policy at issue, counsel for the State defendant advised that her client had no interest in participating in either an injunction or stipulation. Id. at 17-18. At the request of counsel for the City defendants, the Court gave the participants until 5:00 p.m. to attempt to work on the language of a stipulation. Id. at 16, 18-28. When no stipulation could be reached when the hearing later resumed, Judge Block ordered as follows on the record:

So, based upon the argument in court today and the parties admirable concessions and willingness to collectively bring comfort and assurance to the plaintiffs and to the alleged 2,200 members of what might ultimately constitute a class, that they need not be apprehensive about having their rents raised to more than 30 percent of their income, which the City acknowledges has been the past and the current practice and the City will continue to do that pending the ultimate resolution of this litigation. The Court will give comfort to all of these parties by ordering right now that the defendants are preliminarily enjoined and defendants mean officers, directors, principals, agents, servants, employees, successors, assigns, and all of those acting in concert or participation with them from requiring the plaintiffs and the plaintiff, well, not the plaintiff class but it may well be broadened to include the plaintiff class but we understand what we're talking about right now requiring the plaintiffs to pay more than 30 percent of their income towards rent.

And in issuing this preliminary injunction, the Court acknowledges the position of the attorney representing the City, given the fact that he's just received these papers recently, that the City has in fact not required more than 30 percent of the income of the plaintiffs to be paid towards rent. And we all understand that that be the case, then the preliminary injunction which the Court has now ordered would be academic but nonetheless, it does have some comfort, I think, to the plaintiffs which is what I think is indicated under all of the circumstances. So that's the spirit underlying the Court's preliminary injunction. And the Court notes also that the State is not conceding that it has taken any action whatsoever that should be construed or interpreted to mean that it supports lifting the 30 percent cap under the statutory and regulatory scheme or policy, whatever that might turn out to be, the Court understands that.

But nonetheless, the Court once again draws comfort from the fact that the plaintiffs need not be concerned that, be it the City or the State or any of the agents, they have to fear pending the ultimate resolution of this litigation, that they will be required to pay more than 30 percent of their income towards rent. So, I think that really does acknowledge the interest of all parties and in the spirit of pulling this together on very short notice.

Id. at 29-30. He also signed an order that day which was entered on November 2, 2006 preliminarily enjoining the defendants from requiring the plaintiffs to pay more than ...


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