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Robinson v. District of Columbia Housing Authority

September 18, 2009

DENISE ALLISON ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, Denise Allison Robinson, brings this action against the defendant, the District of Columbia Housing Authority ("Authority"), challenging the termination of the benefits she received under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 1-2. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 500 (2006), the Federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2006), and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution*fn1 by improperly terminating her benefits, and she seeks to have her benefits permanently reinstated, as well as receive damages for injuries caused by the possible revocation of those benefits. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2, 39-48. The plaintiff further seeks injunctive relief reinstating her housing benefits and damages for injuries caused by the Authority pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201 (2006). Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1, which the plaintiff opposes,*fn2 Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp'n"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the defendant's motion to dismiss must be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program was created by Congress under Section 8 of the Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983, which amended the United States Housing Act of 1937. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f (2006). The purpose of the Section 8 program is to aid "low-income families in obtaining a decent place to live and [to] promot[e] economically mixed housing" by providing such families with subsidies to enable them to rent units in the private rental housing market. Id. The federal government allocates funds to local public housing agencies through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), and the local public housing agencies enter into housing assistance payment contracts with property owners when the agencies agree to subsidize the rent of eligible families. Id.; see also Compl. ¶ 10.

The Authority is the public housing agency for the District of Columbia. D.C. Code § 6-202 (2004). The Authority is governed by federal regulations promulgated by HUD, 24 C.F.R. § 982 (2004), as well as by local regulations, see generally D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 14, § 8900 (2004). A participant accepted into the voucher program by the Authority must be in compliance with the requirements of the program, 24 C.F.R. § 982.551, and may be denied benefits or have his or her benefits terminated for non-compliance with any of eleven enumerated events, including the violation of the restriction on who may reside in the residence, 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(1)(i)-(xi); see also 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(h)(2) (defining the obligations of the participant, including the requirement that "[n]o other person [i.e., nobody but members of the assisted family] may reside in the unit"). Should the Authority decide to terminate a participant's benefits, the participant is guaranteed the right to notice and the opportunity for an informal hearing prior to the actual termination of benefits, during which the participant may submit evidence and question witnesses. 24 C.F.R. § 982.555; see also D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 14, § 8902.1(j).

B. Termination of the Plaintiff's Benefits

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the facts underlying this lawsuit are the following. In 1989, the plaintiff applied for, and was granted, a Section 8 subsidy under the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, which applies to her current residence at 1118 21st St., N.E., Apartment 108, Washington, D.C. 20002. Compl. ¶ 14. In 2006, the plaintiff initiated a "sporadic friendship" with Raymond Hoose ("Mr. Hoose"),*fn3 who was arrested on October 27, 2006 by Officer Barry Fine ("Officer Fine") at the plaintiff's apartment. Id. at ¶¶ 18-19. The warrant authorizing Mr. Hoose's arrest indicated that he could be found at the plaintiff's address, and Officer Fine noted at the time of Mr. Hoose's arrest that Mr. Hoose stated that he had been "living" with his girlfriend at that address for about two years. Id.; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 (Informal Hearing Decision), Attach. 1 (Note from Officer Fine dated Oct. 27, 2006 ("Note from Officer Fine")).*fn4 The record also indicates, however, that Mr. Hoose may have had other residences during the period immediately prior to his arrest. Compl. ¶ 20; see also Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 (Informal Hearing Decision), Attachs. 4-9 (Letters from Members of Plaintiff's Community).

Based on this information, the Authority sent the plaintiff a "Recommendation for Termination" on April 10, 2007, citing "having an unauthorized occupant" living at her residence as the cause for the termination. Compl. ¶ 22; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 4 (Recommendation for Termination). That same day, the plaintiff requested an informal hearing, Def.'s Mem. at 2, which was held on June 13, 2007, id. at 3. At the hearing, the plaintiff presented six letters from members of her community, one letter from Catholic Charities, and testimony from her relatives, all indicating that Mr. Hoose did not live with the plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 24; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 (Informal Hearing Decision) at 1. In response, the Authority presented the October 27, 2006 note of Officer Fine, a January 30, 2007 letter from the HUD's Office of Investigation, and the testimony of Adele Myles, the Authority's Investigator who investigated the matter. Compl. ¶ 25; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 (Informal Hearing Decision) at 1.

Following the informal hearing, the Hearing Officer affirmed the Authority's recommended termination of the plaintiff's benefits "based on the evidence presented and the testimony received." Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 (Informal Hearing Decision) at 4; see also Compl. ¶ 27. The plaintiff appealed the Informal Hearing Decision on July 16, 2007, Compl. ¶ 28; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 2 (Appeal of Informal Hearing Decision), and on December 14, 2007, the Executive Director of the Authority affirmed the Informal Hearing Decision, Compl. ¶ 29; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 3 (Final Informal Hearing Decision of the District of Columbia Housing Authority) ("Final Decision").

On January 9, 2008, the Supervisor of the Compliance Department of the Authority's Housing Choice Voucher Program, Cedric Wormley, sent the plaintiff's landlord a letter advising it that the plaintiff's Section 8 voucher would be terminated as of February 29, 2008. Compl. ¶ 33. However, the plaintiff has continued to receive the Section 8 subsidy for her unit pending the resolution of this action, Pl.'s Opp'n at 7, and because the plaintiff cannot otherwise meet her rent obligations absent her Section 8 subsidy, the plaintiff alleges that she has been irreparably harmed by the defendant's purposed termination of her housing benefits, Compl. ¶¶ 35-38.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), this Court must construe the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must grant the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged in the complaint." Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Veolia Transp. Servs., Inc., 592 F. Supp. 2d 86, 92 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). However, while the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it "need not accept inferences drawn by [the plaintiff] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. Additionally, the Court need not accept "legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Id. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted only when the plaintiff does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Nat 'l R.R., 592 F. Supp. 2d at 92 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007)). In deciding whether to grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may only consider "the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice." Nat'l R.R., 952 F. Supp. 2d at 92 (citing E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997)) (citations omitted).*fn5

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The defendant seeks dismissal of the plaintiff's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground that "the facts as pled, even if true, do not make out a claim" entitling the plaintiff to relief under the APA or the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Def.'s Mem. at 1. In opposition, the plaintiff responds that her allegations are sufficient to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they identify several violations by the Authority of 24 C.F.R. § 982. Pl.'s Opp'n at 11-21. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the Authority improperly relied on hearsay evidence at the informal hearing, did not provide her with the ability to cross-examine individuals who provided evidence against her, failed to consider "mitigating factors" before terminating the plaintiff's Section 8 benefits, and failed to find by a "preponderance of the evidence" that Mr. Hoose was residing with the plaintiff. Id. The Authority replies that while the "termination of [a housing voucher] may give rise to a cause of action under § 1983... [, the plaintiff] has failed to state such a claim here" because the Authority afforded the plaintiff every ...


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