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SAMUELS v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

August 14, 1987

Eunice Samuels, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
District of Columbia, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

Barrington D. Parker, Senior District Judge:

 Plaintiffs, Eunice Samuels, Mary Hawkins, Annie Simons, Lorraine Warren, Annie Gadsden and Mary Williams, are tenants of public housing facilities owned and operated by the District of Columbia National Capital Housing Authority ("NCHA"). In March 1983, they complained to the NCHA and to the Property Management Administration ("PMA") *fn1" officials about lack of heat and hot water in their dwelling units. Those conditions had persisted for some time; nonetheless, responsible officials of the NCHA had ignored their complaints for five months. Indeed, it was only after this lawsuit was filed that their grievances were acknowledged.

 The six plaintiffs have been certified as class representatives of all current and future tenants in public housing properties maintained by the District of Columbia. They request relief under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. That section provides citizens with an express remedy for the deprivation of federal rights by state officials acting "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of any State . . . or the District of Columbia." 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Pub. L. 96-170, 93 Stat. 1284 (1979) (extending section 1983 to citizens of the District of Columbia). Plaintiffs also rely upon and allege that the Federal Housing Act of 1937, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(k) ("Housing Act" or "Act") and accompanying regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), 24 C.F.R. §§ 966.50 et seq. (1986) (originally promulgated in 1975) require that all local public housing agencies accepting federal funds, implement grievance procedures for tenants which comply with certain minimum federal guidelines. They charge that the District of Columbia and NCHA officials have failed to develop and place in operation effective procedures designed to achieve a speedy resolution of tenant complaints, have been indifferent to their complaints addressing poor maintenance of public housing accommodations, and have otherwise failed to provide on a regular basis commonly recognized requirements for a tenant's welfare - - heat and hot water.

 Plaintiffs' challenge to the District's existing regulatory scheme is twofold: First, they contend that even if the NCHA's formal, written grievance procedures comply with federal requirements, the District has continually and deliberately failed to implement and administer the system. They also contend that several NCHA regulations, specifically those covering the limitations period for filing grievances, the notice provisions, the selection of hearing officers, and the administrative review process, are facially inconsistent with prevailing federal standards and should be struck down as a matter of law. *fn2"

 Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the District of Columbia, Mayor Marion S. Barry, and responsible officials of the NCHA. The Mayor and the individual defendants are sued in their official capacities. Plaintiffs request this Court to enter an order directing the defendants to establish and implement an administrative grievance procedure for resolving tenant complaints dealing with repeated and frequent substandard conditions in their housing accommodations.

 The parties have pursued extensive discovery and plaintiffs now seek relief by way of summary judgment. The material facts are undisputed *fn3" and only questions of law are presented.

 For the reasons set forth below, the Court determines that plaintiffs have clearly demonstrated that they are entitled to the relief requested and that their motion for summary judgment should be granted.

 I.

 A. Federal Procedures and Regulations

 For a number of years, HUD regulations have required local public housing agencies ("PHA") to recognize certain tenant rights and to provide a grievance procedure to redress tenants' complaints. Those requirements were reinforced in 1983 when Congress amended the Housing Act and specifically required HUD to promulgate regulations imposing a duty upon each PHA "to establish and implement an administrative grievance procedure." 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(k). *fn4"

 To effectuate and ensure implementation of the Act, HUD promulgated regulations which apply to this litigation. They provide in relevant part that each PHA establish and implement a procedure

 
to assure that PHA tenants are afforded an opportunity for a hearing if the tenant disputes within a reasonable time any PHA action or failure to act involving the tenant's lease with the PHA or PHA regulations which adversely affect the individual tenant's rights, duties, welfare or status. (emphasis added)

 24 C.F.R. 966.50. The regulations prescribe procedures for resolution of tenant disputes. Once a tenant presents a grievance, either orally or in writing, the PHA is required to conduct an informal grievance conference to discuss and attempt resolution of the dispute without a hearing. After the conference, the PHA must prepare a written summary of the discussion which includes the proposed disposition and an explanation of the procedures for appealing the decision. Id. at 966.54.

 If dissatisfied with the informal grievance conference, the tenant may request a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. The request must be submitted in writing "within a reasonable time after receipt of the summary of discussion." Id. at 966.55(a). A hearing officer is then selected through an agreed-upon procedure between the local housing agency and the grievant. The hearing officer schedules a hearing "promptly" at a time convenient to the parties. The officer must render a written decision within a "reasonable time after the hearing." Id. at 966.57(a).

 HUD adopted the regulations to ensure that all public housing tenants had access to a grievance procedure. The regulations were designed "to avoid costly and divisive public housing litigation by channeling tenant-management disputes into a decentralized, informal, and relatively non-adversarial administrative process." Samuels v. District of Columbia, 248 U.S. App. D.C. 128, 770 F.2d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1985); Brown v. Housing Authority, 471 F.2d 63, 66-67 (7th Cir. 1972).

 Congress and HUD have long envisioned and recognized that

 
the establishment of a grievance procedure by every local housing authority, embodying certain standards and criteria, [will] improve management-tenant relationships and promote [an] improved housing environment to the advantage of the low-rent public housing program thus implementing the national housing policy as expressed by Congress. (emphasis added)

 Circular RHM 7465.9 (Feb. 22, 1971), Statutory Addendum at 21. Accordingly, every local public housing authority receiving federal funding has been required to implement a grievance ...


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