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Johnson v. Ywca Residence, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 9, 2014

JUDY JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
YWCA RESIDENCE, LLC, and LORI STANLICK, Individually and in Her Official Capacity, Defendants.

Judy Johnson Raleigh, North Carolina Plaintiff Pro Se.

Siobhan A. Healy, Babchik & Young, LLP, White Plains, New York, Counsel for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

CATHY SEIBEL, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants YWCA Residence, LLC ("YWCA")[1] and Lori Stanlick. (Doc. 25.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements, affidavits, and exhibits, and are undisputed except where noted. "It is well established that the submissions of a pro se litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) ( per curiam ) (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted).

A. Facts

From 2005 to 2011, Plaintiff Judy Johnson lived at the YWCA Residence in White Plains, New York, (Ds' 56.1 ¶¶ 2, 6, 22), [2] which provides housing and other support services for low-income women, ( id. ¶¶ 2, 5). Under the terms of Plaintiff's lease agreement, [3] the monthly rent was due on the first of each month, and Plaintiff could be found in default if payment was not received by the fifth of the month. ( Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Due to various financial difficulties, however, Plaintiff frequently had difficulty paying the entire month's rent up front. ( Id. ¶¶ 8a-8kk.) Accordingly, Plaintiff and the YWCA would periodically enter into deferred payment agreements. ( Id. ) The YWCA often allowed Plaintiff to pay her rent in bi-monthly installments to accommodate the schedules on which she received her paycheck and social security income. ( See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 8p, 8w, 8y.) A full recitation of Plaintiff's arrears history is not necessary; it suffices to note that despite the flexibility that the YWCA afforded her, Plaintiff was delinquent on her various payment obligations and agreements many times over the years. ( See generally id. ¶¶ 8a-8kk.)

Residents of the YWCA live in two adjacent buildings: Acheson Wallace Hall ("AWH") and the Kennedy Duncan Residence ("KDR"). ( Id. ¶ 3.) In 2008, the YWCA finalized plans for significant renovations to both residential buildings. ( Id. ¶ 13.) Defendants assert that the renovations did not begin until 2009, ( id. ¶¶ 13-14), but Plaintiff claims that significant construction was done to the roof of the AWH building for several months in 2008, [4] (P's Opp. 9-10). Because Plaintiff lived on the top floor of AWH, the roof construction was particularly disruptive to her. ( Id. at 10.) Plaintiff states that she was exposed to "extremely loud noises (drilling), nauseating noxious fumes, black tar, and mold, asbestos, and lead, " and alleges that temperatures often exceeded 90 degrees when the ventilation system was shut off. ( Id. ) At that time, Plaintiff was working at night and needed to sleep during the day, which was difficult because of the construction. ( Id. ) Additionally, Plaintiff claims that she was required to keep her windows open to allow the construction crews to run power lines to the outlets in her apartment (despite other tenants being told to keep their windows closed to avoid the fumes, ( id.; Brown Letter ¶ 1; Smith Letter ¶ 1)), [5] and that she was forbidden from using her kitchen. (P's Opp. 10.) Plaintiff alleges that she "reach[ed] out to county, state and local officials, " but that her "complaints fell on deaf ears." ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that she thereafter filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), ( id. ), but as discussed below, the record shows that Plaintiff's HUD complaint was not filed until 2010.

In February 2009, the YWCA notified tenants of its plan to conduct renovations to the two residential buildings one at a time. (Ds' 56.1 ¶ 16; Healy Aff. Ex. N (memorandum to residents dated Feb. 16, 2009).) AWH would be renovated first, and all residents of that building would be relocated either into KDR or into other housing in the community for the duration of the construction. (Ds' 56.1 ¶ 15.) Once the work was completed, all residents of KDR would then be swapped back into AWH to allow for KDR to be renovated. Plaintiff's request to transfer to KDR was approved in April 2009, and Plaintiff relocated into that building shortly thereafter. ( Id. ¶ 19; Stanlick Aff. ¶ 16; Healy Aff. Ex. O.) During this time, Plaintiff's rent arrears were growing; by mid-2009 she owed almost four months' rent, and the YWCA initiated an eviction proceeding against her in state court. ( See Ds' 56.1 ¶¶ 8q-8u and exhibits cited therein.) That proceeding was ultimately voluntarily terminated by the YWCA in August 2009 when Plaintiff paid the full amount owed. ( Id. ¶ 8u.) Weeks later, however, Plaintiff fell back into arrears, and the YWCA again agreed to deferred payment plans over the next several months. ( Id. ¶¶ 8v-8aa.)

On February 9, 2010, Plaintiff signed a formal complaint for submission to HUD. (Healy Aff. Ex. S, at 3-5.) The complaint alleged that before and up to February 2009, the YWCA had discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her gender and low-income status by, among other things, failing to maintain proper living conditions in the YWCA.[6] ( Id. ) While Plaintiff's signature on the complaint is dated February 9, 2010, the "Filing Date" - which appears to have been entered on the form by HUD - is listed as July 12, 2010. ( Id. at 3.) The record contains no explanation for this delay. The YWCA received notice of the complaint no earlier than July 15, 2010. ( See id. at 1 (transmittal letter to YWCA date-stamped July 15, 2010); Stanlick Aff. ¶¶ 30-31.)

Meanwhile, renovations to AWH were nearing completion, and the YWCA projected that it would begin swapping residents back out of KDR into AWH in September 2010. (Stanlick Aff. ¶ 21; Ds' 56.1 ¶ 20.) Defendant Lori Stanlick, the YWCA official who was responsible for overseeing the residential program, asserts:

Since AWH was renovated using funds received from the Tax Credit Assistance Program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it was necessary for applicants to be in good-standing with their rent payments and in compliance with program requirements (such as, for example, income level requirements) in order to be eligible for housing in the newly renovated AWH building.... To give KDR tenants time to cure their arrears and become eligible to move to AWH, in early 2010, YWCA Residence stopped making payment arrangements, and instead began requiring tenants to pay their full rent amounts on a monthly basis.... YWCA Residence still permitted tenants to pay rent on a bi-weekly basis, but required the tenants to be up-to-date on their rent payments by the end of the month. Tenants were not permitted to carry over arrears from one month to the next.

(Stanlick Aff. ¶¶ 20-22.) On April 13, 2010, Plaintiff was notified that the YWCA was no longer approving any deferred payment plans. (Ds' 56.1 ¶¶ 11-12; Healy Aff. Ex. H (memorandum to Plaintiff dated Apr. 13, 2010).) Stanlick states that this was an across-the-board policy change that affected all residents, not just Plaintiff, (Stanlick Aff. ¶¶ 18-22, 26), and contemporary emails between Stanlick and other YWCA staff members corroborate this account, (Healy Aff. Ex. I ...


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