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Huff v. Marion County Housing Authority

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 8, 2018

HEATHER HUFF and TERRY BLAKELY, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARION COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY, a public body corporate and politic, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOLIE A. RUSSO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Heather Huff and Terry Blakely filed suit against defendant Marion County Housing Authority (“MCHA”) alleging deprivation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment as to liability, leaving the issues of damages to be determined at trial, and equitable relief. Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on all claims. Oral argument was held on June 19, 2018. All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See (doc. 10). For the reasons set forth below, the motions are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         The Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) funds the Housing Choice Voucher (“HCV”) program and “pays rental subsidies [to] eligible families [allowing them to] afford decent, safe and sanitary housing.” 24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a)(1); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et seq. This program is sometimes known colloquially as “Section 8” housing. See Visintini v. Hayward, 2009 WL 2413356, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 5, 2009). State or local government entities administer HCV programs through public housing agencies (“PHAs”). 24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a)(1). Eligible participating families are responsible for securing a private landlord willing to rent a unit that meets the program housing quality standards (“HQS”). 24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a)(2). If their unit is approved by the PHA, the participating family enters into a lease agreement; concurrently, the administering PHA enters into a Housing Assistance Payment (“HAP”) contract with the landlord in accordance with HUD regulations. 24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a)(2). Subsequently, the PHA “must pay the housing assistance payment promptly when due to the owner in accordance with the HAP contract.” 24 C.F.R. § 982.451(5)(i). To remain in the program, participants must comply with specific “family obligations” as defined by relevant regulations. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.551. For example, participants must: supply the PHA with all required information; allow the PHA to inspect units “at reasonable times after reasonable notice;” follow the terms of their unit's lease; and promptly notify the PHA of an eviction. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(b)-(i).

         MCHA is a PHA as defined by 24 C.F.R. § 982 and charged with administering the federally subsidized HCV program to low income individuals and families in rural Marion County. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 2 (doc. 44). Plaintiffs, at various times, participated in MCHA's HCV program. MCHA is governed by a Board of Directors, which establishes official policies. Mathews Decl. Ex. 1, at 31 (doc. 45-1).

         II. Plaintiff Terry Blakely

         Plaintiff Terry Blakely has been an HCV program participant since 2004, using a voucher administered by MCHA. Blakely Decl. ¶ 1 (doc. 42). In late August 2017, Blakely began house-sitting for her daughter while she attended a funeral. Id. at ¶¶ 3-4; Blakely Dep. 13-17 (doc. 40-21). Blakely returned to her residence briefly on September 4 and 11; she returned permanently on September 29. Id. at 17-20.

         During the period Blakely was away from her residence, MCHA attempted to schedule two inspections of her unit. Rena-Doxier Decl. Exs. 22 (doc. 40-22); 23 (doc. 40-23).[1] Blakely did not receive either notice with sufficient time to be present for the scheduled inspections. Blakely Decl. ¶¶ 5-6 (doc. 42); Blakely Dep. 20-21 (doc. 40-21).

         On October 3, MCHA issued Blakely a notice terminating her from the HCV Program with an “effective” date that same day. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 24 (doc. 40-24). MCHA based the termination notice on a violation of family obligation #6: “The family must allow MCHA to inspect the unit at reasonable times and after reasonable notice.” Id. The notice stated Blakely “was sent two (2) letters regarding inspection. Both times [Blakely] was not present in the home.” Id. MCHA concedes the termination notice was “not in compliance with MCHA policy of providing 30 days between the date of the notice and the termination from the HCV program.” Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 6 (doc. 44).

         On October 10, Blakely went to MCHA to complete her annual recertification paperwork and her caseworker informed her she had been terminated from the HCV program. Blakely Dep. 26 (doc. 40-21). Blakely requested a hearing that day; however, MCHA did not hold a hearing. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 25 (doc. 40-25); Blakely Decl. ¶¶ 9-10 (doc. 42). Blakely then contacted an attorney, who reiterated her request for a hearing in a letter dated October 17, 2017. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 26 (doc. 40-26); Blakely Dep. 27 (doc. 40-21)

         MCHA again did not hold a hearing. Instead, MCHA scheduled and conducted an inspection of Blakely's residence on October 27, 2017. Blakely Decl. ¶¶ 10-11 (doc. 42); Marshall Dep. 30 (doc. 45-2); Mathews Decl. Ex. 6, at 30 (doc. 45-6). On November 1, after the inspection was complete, MCHA rescinded the notice of termination. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 28 (doc. 40-28).

         III. Plaintiff Heather Huff

         Huff is the mother of three children and has held an HCV from MCHA since 2002, with the exception of a brief period during 2016. Huff Decl. ¶ 1 (doc. 41). In April 2016, Huff's landlord issued a notice terminating Huff's tenancy without a stated cause. Id. at ¶ 6. Huff's landlord “wanted to remodel [the] unit, and they gave [her] a no cause eviction, ” and explained she “had done nothing wrong, it was nothing personal[.]” Huff Dep. 18 (doc. 40-5). Huff notified her MCHA case worker and requested a move voucher.[2] Huff Decl. ¶ 7 (doc. 41). MCHA required Huff's lease to include a standard HUD addendum, which necessitated that her landlord provide a cause for terminating her lease. HAP Contract § 8.d(3) (doc. 53-1); see also Gonzales Dep. 33 (doc. 40-2).

         On May 10, Huff's landlord issued a second notice terminating her tenancy; however, this notice was issued for “cause” with a June 9 effective date. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 8 (doc. 40-8). Huff contacted her MCHA caseworker regarding the “for cause” termination and again requested a move voucher. Huff Decl. ¶ 8 (doc. 41).

         On June 1, MCHA issued Huff a notice of termination from the HCV Program. Id.; see also Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 9 (doc. 40-9). The termination notice stated Huff's eviction by her landlord was “FOR CAUSE TERMINATION” and her termination from the MCHA program was “DUE TO EVICTION BY LANDLORD, ” with an effective date of June 9. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 9 (doc. 40-9) (capitalization in original). The June 1 termination notice afforded Huff ten days to request a hearing on her termination from the HCV Program. Id. That same day, Huff requested a hearing in writing, and the request was granted with a hearing scheduled for June 8. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 10 (doc. 40-10); Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 11 (doc. 40-11).[3] Because the June 1 termination notice did not comply with MCHA policy, MCHA's executive director instructed Huff's case manager on June 2 to “[r]emove the termination on Heather Huff, ” and explained to the caseworker in an email she could not “terminate [Huff] until after a court order eviction has occurred or a hearing has taken place.” Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 13 (doc. 40-13); see also Mathews Decl. Ex. 2, at 21-22 (doc. 45-2); Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 11 (doc. 40-11).

         On June 20, Huff entered into a stipulated move out agreement with her landlord where she agreed to vacate the premise by July 15. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 14 (doc. 40-14). On July 1, MCHA issued Huff a second notice of termination from the HCV program effective July 15, and listed four family obligations Huff allegedly violated. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 15 (doc. 40-15). Specifically, MCHA alleged Huff violated family obligations:

• #7 The family is responsible for any HQS (Housing Quality Standards) breach . . . beyond the normal wear and tear caused by any member of the household or guest.
• #9 The family must give MCHA a copy of any owner eviction notice including lease violation notices within 3 business days of receipt.
• #13 The family must promptly notify MCHA in writing within 10 business days if any family member no longer resides in the unit.
• # 16 The family must not commit any serious or repeated violation of the lease[.]

Id. (emphasis removed).[4]

         On July 8, Huff again requested a hearing, although one was never scheduled. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 16 (doc. 40-16). Huff declared she never received a response to her hearing request. Huff Decl. ¶ 17 (doc. 41). MCHA maintains it did not initially schedule a hearing because Huffs “attorney could not be reached to confer on an agreeable date.” Mathew's Decl. Ex. 1, at 5-6 (doc. 45-1). MCHA asserts the decision not to hold a hearing going forward was based on “a mutual agreement” with Huffs attorney to afford Huff an “opportunity to remedy” one of her family obligations; MCHA further contends Huffs hearing was “never denied, but it was delayed while MCHA worked with Ms. Huff's attorney to remedy the HQS violations so that she would not be terminated.” Id. at 8-13; 19-21; 23-24. In their opposition to MCHA's motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs take issue with MCHA's characterization and rely on Huff's former counsel, who testified: “[I]f we had a denial, at least we would have an opportunity for a hearing. But we couldn't even get a denial from them. That was the frustration of dealing with the Housing Authority - we were in limbo, so we never got into details about the termination.” James Dep. 21 (doc. 40-18). MCHA also maintains it was attempting to find a suitable hearing officer should Huff fail to remedy her HQS violations. Mathew's Decl. Ex. 6, at 11 (doc. 45-6).

         On July 15, Huff and her children moved out of their home, without having received a move voucher from MCHA. Huff Decl. ¶ 18 (doc. 41) Unable to afford rent without a HAP subsidy, Huff and her children were homeless. Id. at ¶¶ 19-21. They put their belongings in storage and stayed with family, friends, and in a motel. Id.; see also Huff Dep. 44-46 (doc. 40-5).

         In August 2016, Huff's attorney again contacted MCHA to request a hearing, informing MCHA that Huff and her children were homeless. Rena-Doxier Decl. Ex. 19 (doc. 40-19). Huff was unable to find housing to accommodate her entire family: her two older children stayed with her parents allowing them to remain in the same school; Huff and her youngest child stayed at a friend's house in Salem, Oregon, and slept in their living room. Huff Decl. ¶¶ 19-21 (doc. 41).

         On October 10, MCHA issued a move voucher to Huff. Mathews Decl. Ex. 6, at 12 (doc. 45-6). Over two months later, on December 15, Huff entered into a new lease and was reunited with her two older children. Huff Decl. ¶24 (doc. 41); Huff Dep. 43 (doc. 40-5).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file, if any, show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law on an issue determines the materiality of a fact. T.W. Elec. Servs., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). Whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return ...


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