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Hayward v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 20, 2016

RONALD HAYWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC C. BROWN, SHARRON LAND, YVONNE ALEXANDER, JOSPEHINE B. CLAY, JOYCE RICHARDSON, WILLIAM VALENTINE, PAMELA JONES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAUL W. GRIMM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Housing Authority of Prince George's County, Maryland (“Housing Authority”) terminated Plaintiff Ronald Hayward's rental assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8) after the District Court for Prince George's County evicted him from a subsidized apartment for violating the terms of his lease. Compl. 3, 5, ECF No. 1.[1] Hayward filed a Complaint[2] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Eric C. Brown, Executive Director of the Housing Authority, and six of his colleagues for terminating his voucher in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) regulations governing the program. Id. at 3.

         Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 14, and the parties have fully briefed the motion, ECF Nos. 14-1, 18, 21, 22. A hearing is unnecessary in this case. Loc. R. 105.6. A genuine dispute of a material fact exists as to whether the Housing Authority terminated Hayward's voucher prior to an informal hearing held on April 23, 2014 and continued to June 27, 2014. But there is no genuine dispute that the hearing-if it occurred prior to the termination of benefits-comported with due process requirements. Accordingly, I will treat the Defendants' Motion as a motion for summary judgment and grant it in part and deny it in part. Additionally, I will deny without prejudice Hayward's request for preliminary injunctive relief. See Compl. 25.

         Background

         Congress enacted the Housing Choice Voucher Program “[f]or the purpose of aiding lower-income families in obtaining a decent place to live and of promoting economically mixed housing.” 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(a). Under this federally-funded and locally-administered program, individuals may obtain vouchers that cover the extent to which their rent and utility costs exceed a fixed percentage of their monthly income. Id. § 1437f(o)(2)(A)-(B). Local housing authorities pay landlords directly for rental costs and either pay utility companies directly or provide funds to the tenants to cover the utility bills, which the tenants are then responsible for paying. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.514. The Housing Authority of Prince George's County provides voucher recipients with monthly utility-assistance checks. When Can I Expect to Receive My Utility Assistance Check Each Month, Prince George's County, Md., http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/Faq.aspx?QID=250 (last visited Sept. 14, 2016).

         Hayward qualified for a voucher in 2011 and used it to obtain a lease at the Ashton Heights Apartments in Suitland, Maryland. Compl. 5. Hayward's lease and Housing Assistance Payment Contract made the Housing Authority responsible for paying the entire $1, 090.00 monthly rental cost to the landlord directly and assigned Hayward responsibility for paying electricity, natural gas, water, and sewer bills. Apartment Lease Contract ¶¶ 6-7, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 1B., ECF No. 14-4; Housing Assistance Payments Contract ¶¶ 7-8, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 1B. To cover those utility costs, Hayward received monthly checks from the Housing Authority. See HAP Detail Register 2, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 1D, ECF No. 14-6.

         On December 11, 2013, Ashton Heights filed a Complaint in the District Court for Prince George's County seeking possession of Hayward's unit and judgment for unpaid rent, utility payments, and late fees. Ashton Heights Compl., Pl.'s Supp. Ex. 3, ECF No. 6-3. Though the complaint sought both rental and utility costs, Defendants admit that Hayward had no obligation to pay rent due to his voucher. Defs.' Reply 2, ECF No. 22 (“[The Housing Authority] does not disagree that [Hayward's] share of the actual monthly rent due was zero for some of the time.”); Informal Hr'g R. 13 (Ashton Heights Resident Statement showing payments of $1, 090.00 on December 12, 2013 and credits of $988.00 and $102.00 totaling $1090.00 on January 5 and 6, 2014, respectively). The Defendants do maintain, however, that Hayward was responsible for but failed to make utility payments using his utility allowance. Id. Hayward does not dispute this fact. See Informal Hr'g R. 4, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 1A, ECF No. 14-3 (“[The Housing Authority] testified that [Hayward] received a utility allowance. [Hayward] testified that the check was his to keep. [Hayward's] account showed no record of payment or credit for utility charges.”).[3] The total amount of utility costs at issue in Ashton Height's Complaint was $161.00 plus $62.55 in late fees, though it is unclear whether Ashton Heights assessed the late fees for the unpaid utilities or for the rent it claimed and for which Hayward was not apparently responsible. See Ashton Heights Compl.

         The state court set a trial date for January 14, 2014. Id. On January 23, Judge Thomas J. Love entered a judgment in favor of Ashton Heights and ordered Hayward's eviction. Order, Pl.'s Supp. Ex. 4, ECF No. 6-5. On February 4, the Prince George's County Deputy Sheriff executed the eviction. Compl. 5.

         Sometime prior to February 6, 2014-it is unclear when-the Housing Authority notified Hayward that it would terminate his rental assistance on February 28 based upon the state court eviction. See Defs.' Reply 8. On February 6, the Housing Authority received a request from Hayward for a hearing regarding the termination of his voucher. Hayward Ltr., Compl. Ex. 5, ECF No. 1-5. The Authority issued a second notice of termination on February 11, reiterating that rental assistance would cease on February 28. Notice of Termination, Compl. Ex. 6, ECF No. 1-6. It is unclear if Hayward's rental assistance in fact ceased on February 28, 2014. The Authority scheduled an informal hearing for April 23, 2014, which Hayward attended. Informal Hr'g R. 3-4, 8. Because Hayward indicated that he was trying to appeal the underlying eviction in state court, Hearing Officer Josephine B. Clay ordered the hearing continued, and a subsequent hearing occurred on June 24, 2014. Id. at 3.

         Hearing Officer Clay held that Hayward committed a serious lease violation prohibited by 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(e) by “keeping the utility allowance checks and not paying the utilities.” Informal Hr'g R. 3. She further found that the District Court for Prince George's County had issued a warrant of restitution evicting Hayward for the same underlying conduct, id., and that HUD regulations require the termination of “program assistance for a family evicted from housing assisted under the program for serious violation of the lease, ” id. (quoting 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b)(2)).

         More than one year later, Hayward initiated this suit without representation. His Complaint seeks injunctive relief from Director Brown in the form of reissuance of his voucher and damages from the remaining Defendants for the alleged violations of his federal rights. Compl. 25. Both sides characterize the injunctive relief sought as a request for a preliminary injunction. See Defs.' Mem. 8-10; Defs.' Reply 9; Pl.'s Surreply 5, ECF. No. 21. I appointed pro bono counsel after the Defendants filed their Motion. ECF No. 17. Hayward filed an Opposition shortly thereafter and before his attorney had an opportunity review all of the case filings. See Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 18. Accordingly, the parties agreed to a consent motion, ECF No. 19, to provide Plaintiff's counsel additional time to investigate the matter and file a Surreply, which I approved, ECF No. 20. Hayward then filed his Surreply, ECF No. 21, followed by Defendants' Reply, ECF No. 22.

         The Motion is now ripe for disposition.

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for “the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). When a defendant attaches documents to a motion to dismiss that are not “integral to the complaint” or where the documents' authenticity is disputed, the Court must treat the motion as one for summary judgment to consider the documents. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); CACI Int'l v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009); Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Grp., Inc., No. RDB-12-318, 2013 WL 139194, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 10, 2013). When a court does so, “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Notably, “the Federal Rules do not prescribe that any particular notice be given before a Rule 12 motion is converted to a Rule 56 motion.” Ridgell v. Astrue, DKC-10-3280, 2012 WL 707008, at *7 (D. Md. Mar. 2, 2012). Thus, this requirement “can be satisfied when a party is ‘aware that material outside the pleadings is before the court.'” Walker v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., No. CCB-12-3151, 2013 WL 2370442, at *3 (D. Md. May 30, 2013) (quoting Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985)). Indeed, while the Court “clearly has an obligation to notify parties regarding any court-instituted changes in the pending proceedings, [it] does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998). It is ...


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