The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIRICA
This case arises under Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act (HCD Act) of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-383, 88 Stat. 633, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5301-16 (Supp. 1975).
Title I creates a system of federal support to assist local communities in improving the quality of life for citizens in urban areas with low and moderate incomes.
The primary aims of Title I are to increase the supply of decent housing available to urban residents,
to expand and improve the level of community services,
to encourage the rational arrangement of residential, commercial, industrial and recreational land uses
and to strengthen communities by increasing the economic diversity of residents.
These aims are carried out by a grant program.
Title I invites local governments to submit grant applications identifying and substantiating relevant community needs and detailing the ways that grant proposals will satisfy the statutory objectives.
Also required is the submission of a Housing Assistance Plan that, among numerous other things, surveys the housing stock in the applicant community, evaluates the community's housing assistance needs and projects the number of persons requiring assistance, the number of needed units and the general location of the proposed housing units.
Once grant applications are submitted, Title I requires HUD to review them for compliance with statutory criteria and guidelines set out in accompanying regulations.
Title I also requires HUD to complete this review with considerable dispatch.
In particular, unless HUD acts within 75 days of receipt of properly submitted granted applications, they are "deemed [to be] approved."
The sole question in this suit, brought by the Town of East Hartford, a twice unsuccessful grant applicant, is whether HUD acted to disapprove the town's application as promptly as Title I requires.
If it did, and if it notified the town in an authorized manner, then defendants are entitled to prevail on their motion for summary judgment. If it did not act in timely and authorized fashion, then the Town of East Hartford prevails.
In brief outline, the undisputed facts indicate that East Hartford first submitted a grant application to HUD in early 1976. HUD promptly disapproved it. By telegram dated May 6, 1976, the agency notified the town that its application was deficient and could not be approved. Aside from the obvious effect of this notice, disapproval also meant that if the town intended to resubmit its application, it had to do so no later than January 15 of the following year unless this deadline was extended by the agency.
Upon the Mayor's request, HUD granted East Hartford an extension for resubmitting its application. By letter dated December 22, 1976, the Director of HUD's Hartford Area Office informed the town that April 16, 1977 was an acceptable date for resubmission. But April 16, it was later discovered, was a Saturday, meaning that if April 16 remained the submission date, HUD would lose two days in the review process. This was so because under HUD regulations plans effectively submitted on weekends were deemed to have been submitted on the preceding Friday. With that concern in mind, HUD's Community Planning and Development Representative in the Hartford Area Office recommended that the date be changed to April 18, 1977, the succeeding Monday. HUD's Area Director apparently agreed with this recommendation because, by letter dated February 22, 1977 and addressed to East Hartford's Mayor, the Area Director stated that the date for submitting the town's application had been revised to April 18.
Initial review of the town's application began promptly on April 19, 1977. This preliminary screening brought to light a number of substantive shortcomings in the town's submission. These included several deficiencies involving the town's Community Development Program. More importantly, others involved the Housing Assistance Plan completed by East Hartford, a statutorily-mandated and integral part of the application. In particular, figures used in the application were found to be inconsistent with generally available sources of information and calculations were discovered to reflect improper methods of computation.
HUD notified the town about the deficiencies detected during the preliminary review. By letter to East Hartford's Mayor dated May 5, 1977, the Area Director discussed these obstacles to approval at great length, making clear their impact on the chances for approval, and concluding with the expressed hope that the problems could be cleared up in a conciliatory manner. But for whatever reason the most critical deficiencies in the plan were never remedied to HUD's satisfaction. This development confronted the agency at the later stages of the review process with a situation of having to make a final decision on an application that contained numerous recognized yet uncorrected deficiencies. The final outcome was obvious. After discussing the question with involved agency staff persons, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development came to the conclusion that the town's application could not be approved based on the developed administrative record.
This decision was conveyed to East Hartford by telegram
signed and dated July 1, 1977.
Agency logs indicate that the notice of disapproval was delivered to the Western Union Center at 4:07 p.m. on July 1 and transmitted to Connecticut shortly after 5:00 p.m. But Western Union did not deliver the telegram to East Hartford that day, although the customary practice was for the company to deliver communications within five hours of receipt. Apparently because of the lateness of the hour when transmittal was effected, Western Union did not dispatch an agent to deliver the telegram until the following day, a Saturday,
or, at the latest, the day after that.
No company logs exist to confirm the exact time and date of delivery. The record does reveal, however, that the telegram was actually hand delivered to the town's Mayor as he was mowing his lawn during the holiday weekend. Beyond that, the record also indicates that the Mayor customarily did this chore on Saturdays, which would mean in this case July 2, 1977, the seventy-fifth day of the statutory period figuring April 18, 1977 as the submission date. Yet whether or not the Mayor kept to his customary practice in this instance remains in dispute.