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Sylvester B. Lane and v. Fort Walton Beach Housing

November 18, 2011

SYLVESTER B. LANE AND MARY LANE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FORT WALTON BEACH HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Smoak United States District Judge

ORDER

Before me are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 59) and Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (Doc. 61).

Standard of Review

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient facts, which accepted as true, state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). Granting a motion to dismiss is appropriate if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proven consistent with the allegations of the complaint. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 2232 (1984). In making this determination, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406, 122 S. Ct. 2179, 2182 (2003).

Background

Plaintiffs are recipients of Section 8 rental assistance. They bring this suit seeking reinstatement of their rental assistance which Defendants terminated. (Doc. 51, p.16-17). In late January 2011, Defendant Fort Walton Beach Housing Authority ("FWBHA") sent Plaintiffs a letter informing them that they would terminate their rental assistance. (Id. at ¶28; Doc. 6, Attach.1). This letter advised Plaintiffs that the reason for the termination was a violation of the Section 8 requirement that all persons living in the unit must be approved by the housing authority.*fn1 Specifically, the letter stated an unapproved person, Mackil Taylor, "registered as a sexual offender, at your address on October 23, 2010." The letter advised Plaintiffs of their right to dispute the determination by requesting an informal hearing. (Doc. 6, Attach. 1). Plaintiffs timely requested a hearing.

Before the hearing took place, Plaintiffs received a "homeless verification form" from the St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Francisco indicating that Mr. Taylor was living in California. The verification form indicated that from January 18, 2011, until the current date of February 1, 2011, Mr. Taylor was in San Francisco. (Doc. 6, Attach.

3). This information was passed along to the FWBHA.

FWBHA held an informal hearing on February 21, 2011 before a Hearing Officer and the FWBHA Board of Commissioners. (Doc. 51, ¶31). At the hearing, Plaintiffs testified that Mr. Taylor did not live with them, and has never lived with them. Id. at ¶36. Ms. Jessica Faircloth, the Section 8 case manager, did not provide any personal or direct knowledge of Mr. Taylor's residence. Rather, she only testified about documentation she obtained regarding Mr. Taylor. These documents included internet printouts of the Florida sexual offender registry indicating that Mr. Taylor had listed the Plaintiffs' address as his residence. Id. at ¶37. Similarly, Ms. Faircloth presented the Walton County Sheriff's call log which Defendants claim support the contention that Mr. Taylor resided with Plaintiffs. (See Doc. 6, Attach. 2).

On February 25, 2011, FWBHA sent Plaintiffs a letter stating that their rental assistance benefits would be terminated notwithstanding their arguments made at the informal hearing. (Doc. 51, ¶41; Doc. 6, Attach. 5). After a hearing, I found that this letter was insufficient to make a determination whether the Hearing Officer's actions complied with applicable regulation. (See Doc. 31). I therefore granted an injunction, and remanded the matter to FWBHA so that the Hearing Officer could make findings consistent with 24 C.F.R. 982.555(e)(6). (Doc. 38).

On September 27, 2011, FWBHA set Plaintiffs a new letter upholding the termination of Plaintiffs' rental assistance. (Doc. 49, Attach. 1). Plaintiffs have filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 51) which attacks this determination.

Analysis

Plaintiffs' first count is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging violations of their Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights and the United States Housing Act of 1937. They also claim that FWBHA's actions violate the federal regulations which govern the hearing process and safeguard Plaintiffs' right to due process. HUD regulations provide as follows with respect to the Section 8 termination hearing procedures:

(e) Hearing procedures

(1) Administrative plan. The administrative plan must state the PHA procedures for conducting informal hearings for participants.

(2) Discovery. (i) By family. The family must be given the opportunity to examine before the PHA hearing any PHA documents that are directly relevant to the hearing. The family must be allowed to copy any such document at the family's expense. If the PHA does not make the document available for examination on request of the family, the PHA may not rely on the document at the hearing.

(ii) By PHA. The PHA hearing procedures may provide that the PHA must be given the opportunity to examine at PHA offices before the PHA hearing any family documents that are directly relevant to the hearing. The PHA must be allowed to copy any such document at the PHA's expense. If the family does not make the document available for ...


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