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Daniels v. Housing Authority of Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 8, 2017



          GEORGE J. HAZEL, United States District Judge

         In this case, Plaintiff Virna Daniels sued Defendants the Housing Authority of Prince George's County ("HAPGC"), Eric Brown, Carolyn Floyd, Pamela Jones and Mavis Headley (collectively "Defendants"), [1] alleging that she was ineffectively represented, and financially and emotionally injured when she lost her housing voucher. ECF No. 4. Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiffs two Motions to Appoint Counsel, ECF No. 108, ECF No. 118, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as Sanctions for Plaintiffs Failure to Answer Interrogatories and Respond to Request for Production and Certification of Good Faith Efforts ("Motion for Sanctions"), ECF No. 114, and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 125. The summary judgment motion will be granted and the remaining motions will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court summarized the factual background of this case in detail in its February 3. 2017 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 104, and restates the relevant facts here. Plaintiffs claim focuses on the housing subsidy that she received from the Housing Choice Voucher Program from at least 2010 until her termination from the program in August 2014. On April 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that HAPGC miscalculated her subsidy and improperly terminated her from the program. On July 21, 2016, this case was removed to this Court. ECF No. 1. That same day, Plaintiff amended her complaint against Defendants, ECF No. 4, and amended it again on August 8, 2016. ECF No. 72. On February 3, 2017, this Court ruled on a number of motions, dismissing the claims against several defendants, ECF No. 104 at 8, and granting in part and denying in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, id. at 11. Specifically, the Court dismissed claims that had previously been litigated in state court (allegations that Plaintiffs subsidy had been miscalculated from 2010 through March 2013), but denied the Motion to the extent that Plaintiff "raises new claims, alleging continued miscalculations post-March 2013 and improper termination from the program in 2014, which were not available to Plaintiff at the time of the prior suit." Id. at 13. As such, the only relevant issues that remained were whether HAPGC miscalculated Plaintiffs subsidy from March 2013 forward, and whether she was properly terminated from the program.

         Following this Court's Order, Defendants filed an Answer to the Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 107, Plaintiff filed the pending Motion to Appoint Counsel, ECF No. 108, and the Court entered a Scheduling Order, ECF No. 109. This Scheduling Order provided that Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures should be served by March 24, 2017, that depositions should be completed by July 10, 2016, that the parties should file a status report by July 10, 2017, and that motions for summary judgment should be filed by August 10, 2017. ECF No. 109 at 1-2.

         On July 7, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a Motion for an Extension of Time to complete her discovery interrogatories. ECF No. 116. On July 9, 2017, Defendants filed the now-pending Motion for Sanctions, ECF No. 114, along with a Status Report on July 10, 2017, ECF No. 115. Both filings made clear that Plaintiff had not been responsive to Defendants' discovery requests. Defendants informed the Court that they had served Interrogatories and a Request for Production on Plaintiff on June 1, 2017, but that they had not received any responses or Rule 26(a)(1) initial disclosures as of July 9, 2017. ECF No. 114 ¶¶ 3-6. Defendants argue that they were "prejudiced by Plaintiffs failure to provide discovery, " as they do not have sufficient information to complete their summary judgment motions, and ask that the Court dismiss the case as a sanction for Plaintiffs failure to respond, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a) and (d)(3). Id. at 2. Alternatively, they request an order compelling discovery and a modification of the scheduling order, along with an award of attorneys' fees. Id. at 2-3.

         In response, Plaintiff filed an Opposition to the motions on July 11, 2017, which included a second Motion to Appoint Counsel. ECF No. 118. In her Opposition, Plaintiff explains that she thought that an attorney who represents her in her home foreclosure suit would be handling discovery, and only realized that this attorney was not handling discovery when she received Defendants' July 3, 2017, letter requesting her discovery. Id. ¶ 1. Plaintiff explains that she is now aware of her responsibilities, and will try to comply with the discovery requests. In fact, Plaintiff submitted Certificates Regarding Discovery to the Court on August 7, 2017 (ECF No. 121, certifying a Response to Defendants' First Interrogatories), August 21, 2017 (ECF No. 123, certifying Supplemental Responses to a request from Defendants dated August 11, 2017), and on August 25, 2017 (ECF No. 124). On August 10, 2017, this Court extended the close of discovery until September 1, 2017, and extended the dispositive motion deadline until October 2, 2017. ECF No. 122.

         On October 2, 2017, the remaining Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 125, arguing that Plaintiff had not produced any evidence indicating that her subsidy had been improperly calculated from March 2013 to the time of her termination from the program, or that her termination had been improper. ECF No. 125-1 at 2-3. Furthermore, Defendants provided several exhibits demonstrating that (1) Defendants had repeatedly sought a notarized letter from Plaintiffs son clarifying the amount of money he regularly contributes on her behalf for certain bills, ECF No. 125-3 at 14; (2) Defendants terminated Plaintiff from the subsidy program after her continued failure to provide the notarized letter, id. at 3; and, (3) even after her termination, Defendants gave Plaintiff a termination hearing and further opportunities to provide the requested information, although she did not comply, id.

         Plaintiffs Motions for Counsel, ECF No. 108 and ECF No. 118, and Defendants' Motion for Sanctions, ECF No. 114, and Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 125, are ripe for review. The Court addresses the motions in turn.


         Before addressing Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court first considers whether Plaintiff is entitled to have counsel appointed to assist her; the Court finds that she is not.

         A. Standard of Review

         The power to appoint counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) is a discretionary one, to be exercised only in "exceptional cases." See Cook v. Bounds, 518 F.2d 779, 780 (4th Cir. 1975). The question of whether such circumstances exist in a particular case hinges on the characteristics of the claim and the litigant. See Whisenant v. Yuam, 739 F.2d 160, 163 (4th Cir. 1984), abrogated on other grounds by Mallard v. U.S. District Court, 490 U.S. 296, 298 (1989). Where a colorable claim exists but the litigant has no capacity to present it, counsel should be appointed. Id.

         B. ...

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