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WINTER v. D.C. HUD FIELD OFFICE

April 2, 2001

HARRY J. WINTER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
D.C. HUD FIELD OFFICE ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). The plaintiff, Harry J. Winter ("the plaintiff" or "Mr. Winter"), brings this pro se suit for breach of contract. The plaintiff claims that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") has a contractual obligation to reimburse him for a training workshop he attended in Las Vegas and for the associated travel costs. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that HUD pre-approved his grant money for the trip, according to customary procedure. See Pl.'s "Opposing" Response to Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("Pl.'s Response") ¶ 15; Pl.'s Response Opposing Summ.J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") ¶ 18. Defendants Mary Dunn and Lee Palman are named in their official capacities as HUD employees.

The defendants move to dismiss this action under Rule 56(c) on the ground that there is no genuine issue as to HUD's non-authorization of the plaintiffs trip because the plaintiff was aware that written approval was necessary for all grant requests. See Mot. for Summ.J. at 3. Indeed, the plaintiff concedes that official procedure required him to obtain written approval. See Pl.'s Reply at 6.*fn1 The defendants also assert that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously by declaring the trip an ineligible expense.

For the reasons that follow, the court holds that because there is a genuine issue as to HUD's non-approval of the plaintiffs grant request, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is premature. Accordingly, the court will deny without prejudice the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Harry J. Winter is the President of the Resident Council for Horizon House, a public-housing project that receives grant money from HUD's Tenant Opportunities Program ("TOP"). See Pl.'s Response ¶ 4. A Resident Council is a community liaison body designed to improve resident satisfaction and quality of life and to promote participation in self-help initiatives. Council members receive training in community organization and fiscal management, among other things. See id. Mr. Winter asserts that the D.C. HUD Field Office gave him and other council members inadequate training in grant-writing skills. See Pl.'s Reply at 2-3. Consequently, council members asked the D.C. Housing Authority ("DCHA") to investigate the workshop offerings. See id. While Mr. Winter does not discuss the result of this investigation, he and the other members decided to seek out training programs on their own. See id. at 4. Mr. Winter states that because HUD and DCHA failed to provide him with information on local workshops, he found a suitable grant-writing workshop in Las Vegas, Nevada. See id.

Mr. Winter claims that HUD official Mary Dunn pre-approved his Las Vegas proposal over the telephone on July 29, 1999. See Pl.'s Response ¶ 7-8. He admits, however, that she never put her approval in writing. See Pl.'s Reply at 6. He also states that he was aware that Ms. Dunn needed to provide written approval of all such "draw down" requests. See id. Nevertheless, Mr. Winter maintains that he followed the customary procedure for draw-down requests, which was to receive verbal approval from a HUD official. See Pl.'s Response ¶ 15; Pl.'s Opp'n ¶ 18. He submitted a grant-request form to HUD only after his trip. See Pl.'s Response ¶ 14.

Mr. Winter states that Ms. Dunn called him on or about August 7, 1999 and advised him to cancel the trip, because the Office of Inspector General ("OIG") was auditing Horizon House's records. See Pl.'s Response ¶ 10. He asserts, however, that Ms. Dunn never rescinded her approval:

I told Defendant Dunn that all tickets had been purchased based on her approval. Defendant Dunn left the option to me whether I would still go. I told her that this trip was planned, you approved it, and I still intend on going. The conversation abruptly ended.

Id. The defendants counter that before Mr. Winter departed, both the HUD D.C. Field Office and OIG determined that the trip was not eligible for reimbursement and told him as much. See Mot. for Summ.J. at 3; Defs.' Reply at 3. The defendants also note that Resident Council training was free and available from the HUD D.C. Field Office. See Mot. for Summ.J. at 2. Ms. Dunn states that during the first week of August, she notified Mr. Winter that HUD would not reimburse him for the Las Vegas workshop. See id., Ex. 2 ¶ 5. She maintains that based on materials provided by Mr. Winter, she could not determine how the trip related to the operations of the TOP. See id., Ex. 2 ¶ 6.

The OIG conducted an auditing review of the Resident Council on August 19, 1999. Joan Hobbs, an Assistant Inspector General for Audit, says she specifically told Mr. Winter on that day that his Las Vegas trip would not be eligible for reimbursement. See id., Ex. 4 ¶ 3. Unless the training was pre-approved in writing or the OIG's audit found a justifiable need for the trip, Mr. Winter would travel at his own personal expense. See id. In Mr. Winter's version of the conversation, Hobbs said that he would be reimbursed if the training were an eligible trip. See Pl.'s Response ¶ 13.

On October 13, 2000, the plaintiff filed his complaint in the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Civil Division of the D.C. Superior Court. See Notice of Removal, Ex. A. On November 9, 2000, the federal defendants removed the ...


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