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C.W. v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 30, 2018

C.W.; D.S.; M.C.; A.H.; S.G.; EX.; S.A.; F.E.; I.F.; G.B.; and D.G., by his next friend, THEO LIEBMANN; and other similarly situated youth, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendant.

          THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY By: Judith Goldiner, Kimberly Forte, Lisa Freeman, Theresa B. Moser and Beth Hofmeister Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          PATTERSON BELKNAP WEBB & TYLER LLP By: Lisa E. Geary, Jason S. Gould, Muhammad U. Faridi, Catherine Geddes, Jane Metcalf and Alanna Small Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          ZACHARY W. CARTER By: Eric B. Porter, Assistant Corporation Counsel Attorneys for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STERLING JOHNSON, JR., U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs, all but one of whom were 17- or 18-year-old homeless youths at the time this action was commenced, bring this class action against defendant City of New York ("Defendant" or "City"), alleging that the City violated their rights under federal law, the New York City Human Rights Law, and a state statute-the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978, N.Y. Exec. Law § 532 et seq. (the "RHYA")-by failing to provide, or ejecting them from, youth shelters. Defendant now moves for partial summary judgment, arguing that the RHYA does not obligate the City to provide youth-specific shelter to any 18- to 20-year-old homeless youth who seeks it. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment is granted and Plaintiffs' RHYA claim is dismissed with respect to all plaintiffs who were age 18 or older at the time this action was commenced.

         BACKGROUND

         This is a civil rights action commenced by homeless individuals, aged 17 to 20, who, at some juncture, have been denied access to a youth shelter and/or ejected from such a shelter. The Amended Complaint alleges that "[b]y denying youth shelter to homeless youth ages 16 to 20 and ejecting them from shelter to the street without fair process, " the City has violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the RHYA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Amended Complaint, ¶ 16. Plaintiffs principally seek injunctive relief, including an order requiring the City to provide youth shelter and services to any homeless youth aged 16 to 20 who seeks them and prohibiting the City from denying youth shelter or services to any homeless youth aged 16 to 20 or ejecting such youth from a shelter without fair process, including notice and an opportunity to be heard.

         The instant motion pertains solely to Plaintiffs' claim that the City has violated the RHYA. According to the Amended Complaint, the RHYA "envisions a straightforward system in which homeless youth have unfettered access to youth shelter and services." Amended Complaint, ¶ 31. The pleading alleges that section 532-b of the New York Executive Law entitles "any homeless youth" to "crisis shelter, which includes a bed and services such as food, clothing, medical care, education, and counseling." Id. The pleading further alleges that sections 532-a and 532-d provide that homeless youth who cannot find alternative living arrangements during their stay at the crisis shelter "will move into transactional independent living programs (TILs), " from which they "will transition to independent living." Id.

         The Amended Complaint also alleges that the RHYA "does not permit the City to discharge runaway or homeless youth from shelter back to the street under any circumstance." Id., ¶ 38. With respect to runaway youth, the pleading implies that N.Y. Exec. Law § 532-b "requires reunification with family, foster care placement, or housing according to any other suitable plan upon discharge from crisis shelter." Id. With respect to homeless youth, the pleading alleges that sections 532-a and 532-d permit them "to remain in crisis shelter until they secure a bed in a [transactional independent living] program or find suitable shelter elsewhere." Id.

         The Instant Motion

         Defendant now moves for partial summary judgment, arguing that the RHYA and related regulations "do not mandate the creation of youth-specific shelters, or impose any obligations on municipalities ...." Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Defendant's Memo"), p. 1. In particular, Defendant urges the Court to reject Plaintiffs' claim that the RHYA obligates the City to provide youth-specific shelter to 18- to 20-year-old homeless youth, noting that the City already provides "generalized shelter" to these individuals. The motion expressly declines to address the issue of whether 16- to 17-year-old runaway and homeless youth are entitled to youth-specific shelter, noting that the City's "current policy, formalized following the initiation of this action, requires that youth-specific shelter programs receiving City funding must provide a shelter bed to any 16 or 17 year-old homeless or runaway youth who seeks one" or "refer the youth to another youth-specific program with an available bed." Id., p. 3, n. 4.

         Defendant principally argues that "Plaintiffs' interpretation of the RHYA and Regulations is clearly at odds with their plain language ...." Defendant's Memo, p. 7. Defendant notes that N.Y. Exec. Law § 532-b imposes certain duties on "approved runaway programs, " not on the City or any other municipality. Defendant's Memo, p. 8. Defendant contends that, in New York City, approved runaway programs are operated exclusively by "private not-for-profit entit[ies], " approved by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (the "OCFS"). Id., p. 9. According to Defendant, section "532-b merely dictates how [an] individual youth-specific shelter program must operate once ... certified by OCFS." Id.

         Defendant concedes that subsection 2 of section 420 of the New York Executive Law, which was enacted at the same time as the RHYA, requires all municipalities to develop a "comprehensive plan to offer youth development programs, " and requires those municipalities that seek partial reimbursement for services to runaway and homeless youth to include a "runaway and homeless youth plan" as part of that comprehensive plan. Id., p. 15. However, Defendant maintains that these provisions "merely set[ ] up a framework within which a municipality, in order to obtain partial reimbursement from the State of the funds it chooses to provide to runaway and homeless youth programs, must provide to OCFS a plan describing how such funds were or will be used to provide services to such youth." Id., p. 17. Defendant argues that these provisions do not require a municipality, as a condition of receiving state reimbursement, to "establish and fund an expansive and infinitely expandable system of youth-specific shelters sufficient to meet whatever level of demand for such shelters arises among 18 to 20 year-olds at any time." Id.

         In their Brief in Opposition to the City's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Plaintiffs' Opposition"), Plaintiffs contend that § 420 creates an "opt-in framework" under which municipalities that agree to accept state funds "must adhere to the statute's mandate to supply shelter and services to satisfy need." Plaintiffs' Opposition, pp. 10-11. Plaintiffs do not point to a statutory provision creating this "mandate, " but reason that "[i]t would be irrational for the Legislature to set forth, in careful detail, a remedial framework intended to address the needs of runaway and homeless youth, only to allow participating municipalities to shirk their responsibility to supply adequate shelter to meet that need." Id., p. 11. Plaintiffs point to other statutes-such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") and the Social Security Act ("SSA")-which require a state that opts to accept federal funding to provide certain benefits to all eligible beneficiaries. Id., p. 12. Plaintiffs assert that the provisions relating to "approved runaway programs" serve to "permit[ ] the City to delegate the operation of youth shelters, but not the obligations." Id., p. 14 (emphasis omitted).

         Plaintiffs' Opposition contends that the legislative history of the RHYA supports the view that the statute "imposes an obligation to provide youth shelter." Id., p. 9. Plaintiffs quote from the Bill Memorandum authored by Assemblyman Lasher, the lead sponsor of the legislation, which stated: "This legislation will provide a broad basis for each county in the State to determine the particular nature of its own runaway and homeless youth problem and receive State aid to meet it." Id., p. 8. Plaintiffs reason that this statement-coupled with the Governor's observation that "approved runaway programs" have the "duty to ... help arrange for the furnishing of necessary services"-mandates the conclusion that the City, having accepted State aid, is required "to rectify youth homelessness in the City based on need." Id.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A party moving for summary judgment has the burden of establishing that there exists no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In considering a summary judgment motion, "the court's responsibility is not to resolve disputed issues of fact but to assess whether there are any factual issues to be tried, while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party." Knight v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co.,804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1986) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). If the Court recognizes ...


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