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West v. Jackson

March 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Michael West, proceeding pro se, sued Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), in his official capacity. Counts 1 and 2 of the Complaint allege violations of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and Count 3 asserts a claim regarding HUD's response to a fair housing complaint that Mr. West filed. Mr. West's Complaint alleged that Northeast Community Action Corporation ("NECAC") discriminated against him based on his disability by denying him Section 8 housing. HUD has moved to dismiss or for summary judgment. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. [Dkt. #15]. As explained below, HUD's motion will be granted.


The NECAC is a nonprofit community organization which delivers a variety of social service programs to low income, handicapped and other disadvantaged individuals through grants and contractual agreements with federal, state and local governments. NECAC provides Section 8 rental assistance and administers Section 8 housing in twelve counties in Missouri. "Section 8 housing" was created by the Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437-1440. Under the Section 8 program, tenants make rental payments based on income and ability to pay and HUD, in turn, makes assistance payments to private landlords to make up the difference between the tenant's contribution and a contract rent agreed upon by the landlord and HUD. Cisneros v. Alpine Ridge Group, 508 U.S. 10, 12 (1993) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(a)). While HUD oversees the distribution of funds appropriated by Congress, local public housing authorities such as NECAC make eligibility determinations and disburse funds. See Nat'l Leased Housing Ass'n v. HUD, No. 03-1509, 2007 WL 148829, at *1 (D.D.C. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)).

On December 29, 2003, Mr. West submitted an application to NECAC for Section 8 rental assistance. Def.'s Reply, Exs. 4 & 5. Mr. West stated on his application that he lived at 46 Vanguard, O'Fallon, Missouri, with Julie Stephens, a Section 8 participant. Id. On March 1, 2004, NECAC Housing Director Nelva Owens sent Mr. West a letter indicating that his application was denied based on his admission that he had resided with Ms. Stephens for two years while she received federal Section 8 assistance.*fn1 Id., Ex. 5. The letter stated "[b]y your own admission that you resided with Ms. Stephens, you were a party to the fraud that was committed." Id. Further, the application also was denied because Mr. West failed to provide required social security or county residency documentation. Id., Ex. 4.

On February 28, 2004, Mr. West emailed Andrew Boeddeker, Director of the Kansas City Hub Office of Public Housing, HUD, requesting NECAC records and complaining of unfairness to Ms. Stephens because her housing assistance had been terminated. Id., Ex. 2. Mr. Boedekker responded that HUD does not maintain NECAC records, NECAC does; also, HUD had not received a complaint from Ms. Stephens. Id. On May 18, 2004, Mr. West again emailed Mr. Boedekker. This time he requested that HUD investigate "why Ms. Nelva Owens of NECAC, Bowling Green, Missouri unreasonably refuses to respond to my written inquires regarding housing assistance under HUD [sic] program." Id., Ex. 3. Mr. West explained:

Ms. Owens sent me a letter back in March 2004 [denying housing assistance due to fraud]. In April 2004, I replied with relevant questions pertaining to her allegations that I was part of a fraud. To date I have not received a response.

Id. Mr. Boeddeker responded:

Dear Mr. West -- You needed to send a letter to the Housing Authority requesting an informal hearing regarding the disposition of your application. Your letter from Ms. Owens would have given specific instructions as how to request a hearing, including the time frames for the request. If you failed to follow those instructions, there is nothing further we can do to address your concerns. If you feel that you have been discriminated against by NECAC, you should contact the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at 1-800-743-5323.


On July 27, 2004, Mr. West filed an administrative complaint with HUD's office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity ("FHEO"). In his complaint he claimed that NECAC refused to process his application to participate in Section 8 housing, and that while NECAC indicated that its refusal was based on Mr. West' prior fraud, Mr. West alleged that such refusal in fact was based on Mr. West's disability. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."), Ex. 1. HUD assigned Franklin Montgomery, an Equal Opportunity Specialist, to investigate Mr. West's charge of discrimination. Id., Ex. 10, Decl. of Montgomery. During his investigation, Ms. Owens told Mr. Montgomery that NECAC had held a hearing regarding the termination of housing assistance for Julie Stephens. Id. ¶ 3. The issue at the hearing was whether Ms. Stephens had defrauded NECAC by permitting Mr. West to live at her home without notifying NECAC. Id. No HUD representatives were involved in the hearing or the decision. Id. ¶ 4. On November 9, 2005, HUD notified Mr. West by letter that it had determined that no reasonable cause existed to believe that a discriminatory housing practice had occurred. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 2.

Over a year later, on January 24, 2007, Mr. West submitted a FOIA request to Turner Russell, Director of FHEO's Enforcement Support Division at HUD headquarters. Mr. West requested the following records:

All communications originated by or dispatches to this HUD Enforcement Support Division enumerated above pertaining to:

a. this instant requestor, Michael West;

b. the Mraz investigation; and

c. the Montgomery ...

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