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Bernhard Christian Helgason v. R&R John Doe

September 13, 2011

BERNHARD CHRISTIAN HELGASON PLAINTIFF,
v.
R&R JOHN DOE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:

USDC SDNY

DOCUMENT

ELECTRONICALLY FILED

DOC #:

ORDER ADOPTING

Plaintiff Bernhard Christian Helgason ("Helgason") commenced this civil rights action, pro se, against the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal ("DHCR"), certain of its employees, and the government of the State of New York, including the Governor and the Court of Appeals (collectively, "Defendants"). Specifically, Helgason alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause, Due Process Clause, and First Amendment by (1) denying his procedural right to object when the owner of his building sought to increase the rent; (2) improperly approving this increase; and (3) applying the wrong standard of judicial review to that approval.

On July 8, 2010, the Court referred the general pretrial matters and dispositive motions in the case to Magistrate Judge James C. Francis. (Dkt. 2.) Defendants then moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (6), arguing that the Court lacks jurisdiction, the defendants have immunity, and the complaint fails to state a claim for legal relief. On June 24, 2011, Magistrate Judge Francis issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), recommending that the Court grant the motion and dismiss the complaint. Helgason filed objections on August 10, 2011. For the following reasons, the Court ADOPTS the R&R in full and DISMISSES the complaint.

BACKGROUND

The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the complaint's allegations, as summarized in the R&R. Briefly, in late 2006, the owner of 233 East 89th Street ("Building"), a rent-stabilized building, applied to DHCR to raise the rent in anticipation of a Major Capital Improvement ("MCI"). DHCR gave notice to the building's tenants, including Helgason, of the application and the procedure for commenting on the MCI documentation. Helgason requested an extension from DHCR to review the documentation. He submitted his request by certified mail and received a return receipt signed by a DHCR employee.

Notwithstanding Helgason's unanswered request, DHCR granted the proposed rent increase, indicating that there were no tenant responses, and gave instructions for filing a petition for administrative review. Helgason immediately did so and received an automatic response from DHCR, which stated that if there was no decision within ninety days, he could "consider the [petition] 'denied' and . . . begin a court proceeding asking for judicial review under Article 78 of the civil practice laws and rules." (R&R at 3).

Helgason waited ninety days and commenced Article 78 proceedings in New York Supreme Court. The court directed DHCR to enter a final administrative order on the merits of his claims so that it could make a ruling. DHCR issued an order acknowledging that it had "mishandled" Helgason's initial response to the building owner's notice, unintentionally violating his procedural rights. (Id. at 4). After reviewing the comments and evidence, DHCR affirmed the rent increase. It noted that Helgason had requested more time to review the documents and consult experts, but found that DHCR gave him the maximum amount of time possible in light of the court's deadline.

For reasons unrelated to this motion, Helgason ultimately filed a second Article 78 action in Supreme Court. The court there ruled that, while DHCR's actions were "far from exemplary," there was a rational basis for its approval of the rent increase. (R&R at 6). The Appellate Division affirmed this decision, finding Helgason's arguments "unavailing." Helgason v. N.Y.S. Div. of Housing & Community Renewal, 887 N.Y.S.2d 45, 45-46 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep't 2009). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal, "absent . . . a substantial constitutional question." Helgason v. N.Y.S. Div. of Housing and Community Renewal, 925 N.E.2d 95 (N.Y. 2010).

On July 2, 2010, Helgason filed the present complaint, asserting violations of the Equal Protection Clause, Due Process Clause, and First Amendment. He argues that the DHCR withheld the rent increase application file, discriminated against tenants, violated their own administrative procedures, and ignored his response; and that the government of New York State, including the New York Court of Appeals, improperly deferred to DHCR's administrative decision. Defendants now move to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (6), on ...


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