896 F.2d 600 (1st Cir. 1990), 89-1608, Durrett v. Housing Authority of City of Providence

Docket Nº:89-1608.
Citation:896 F.2d 600
Party Name:Ruth DURRETT, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. HOUSING AUTHORITY OF the CITY OF PROVIDENCE, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:February 14, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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896 F.2d 600 (1st Cir. 1990)

Ruth DURRETT, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

HOUSING AUTHORITY OF the CITY OF PROVIDENCE, et al.,

Defendants, Appellees.

No. 89-1608.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 14, 1990

Heard Dec. 5, 1989.

John W. Dineen, Providence, R.I., for appellants.

Stephen J. Reid, Jr. and Blish & Cavanagh, Providence, R.I., on brief for the Housing Authority of the City of Providence, appellee.

Edward B. Foley, David W. Ogden, Jenner & Block, Washington, D.C., Barbara R. Arnwine, Paul Holtzman, Lawyers' Committee for Civ. Rights Under Law, John A. Powell, American Civ. Liberties Union Found., Herbert H. Henderson, Huntington, W.Va., Everald Thompson, NAACP Sp. Contribution Fund on brief for Lawyers' Committee for Civ. Rights Under Law,

Page 601

American Civ. Liberties Union Found., Nat. Ass'n for the Advancement of Colored People, Nat. Council of La Raza, Civ. Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and Rhode Island Civ. Liberties Union, amicus curiae.

Before CAMPBELL, Chief Judge, COFFIN, Senior Circuit Judge, and TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

COFFIN, Senior Circuit Judge.

This case began as a complex class action brought under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 3604(b), by tenants in two public housing projects against various municipal and national entities, seeking relief from a wide variety of allegedly substandard conditions. After much bitterness, including a lengthy rent strike, and much negotiation, the parties crafted a comprehensive settlement agreement that satisfied all concerned, specifically the plaintiff tenants and their landlord, the Providence Housing Authority. The district judge, however, refused to approve the agreement. The questions before us are whether we have appellate jurisdiction to review the denial of an order enforcing the settlement and, if so, whether the court below committed reversible error. We answer both questions in the affirmative. 1

Background

This controversy arose out of the complaints of tenants of the Hartford Park and Manton Heights housing developments concerning substandard conditions at the two developments, which offered public housing to largely minority occupants. Perhaps prophetically, it began in frustration with complaints lodged with the Providence Human Relations Commission (Commission) against the City of Providence (City) and the Providence Housing Authority (Authority), and also with efforts to process housing code enforcement requests under the City's administrative procedures. Neither effort resulted in any relief. In yet a third attempt, the named plaintiffs intervened in an action brought before the Housing Court Division of the state District Court by the City against the Authority, naming the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a defendant. HUD removed the case to federal court, which remanded to the Housing Court. The latter court then advised plaintiffs to pursue their federal claims in federal court. The plaintiffs accordingly dismissed their claims without prejudice and commenced the instant action in July of 1986, almost two years after lodging the initial complaints. The complaint, after amendment, consisted of three counts. The first, aimed at the Commission and the City, essentially raised an equal protection claim that the discrimination complaints of plaintiffs did not receive the orderly processing given others. The second count, aimed at the City and the Authority, alleged failure to enforce housing code provisions, violating both substantive and procedural due process. It also claimed violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by denying plaintiffs' rights to decent, safe, and sanitary housing. Count III, aimed at HUD, alleged that plaintiffs had been deprived of their rights to decent, safe, and sanitary housing, free from discrimination. The relief requested included injunctions (a) requiring the City to give full code enforcement protection to a class of all tenants of the two developments, (b) requiring the Authority to live up to city and state minimum standards, and (c) requiring HUD to conform to federal minimum standards and to establish and carry out a modernization and maintenance plan.

The ensuing period of almost two and one half-years was notable for a rent strike accompanied by an arrangement for receiving and holding rental payments in escrow. Considerable discovery and negotiation also took place. On November 17, 1988 a detailed Settlement Stipulation and Consent Decree agreement between plaintiffs and the Authority was presented to the court. It contained 50 numbered paragraphs in 29

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pages. The scope and tenor of the agreement can be appreciated from the catalogue of principal subjects covered, which we record in the margin. 2 As requested, the court deemed the proposed consent decree reasonable and called for a motion for approval and submission of...

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