Brooker v. Altoona Hous. Auth.

Decision Date12 June 2013
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:11-CV-95
PartiesJOSEPHINE BROOKER, Plaintiff, v. ALTOONA HOUSING AUTHORITY, CHERYL JOHNS, its Executive Director, LINDA WALTER, Section 8 Coordinator, and JOHN or JANE DOE, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania





This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. ECF Nos. 44 & 50. For the following reasons, the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 44) will be denied, and the Defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 50) will be granted in part and denied in part. The trial presently scheduled to begin on July 22, 2013, will be conducted within the parameters established in this opinion. ECF No. 92.


Plaintiff Josephine Brooker ("Brooker") was born on May 7, 1946. ECF No. 47-15 at 2. On August 5, 2004, she protectively applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act [42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383fJ. ECF No. 53-1 at 5. In a decision rendered on May 22, 2006, Administrative Law Judge Raymond J. Zadzilko determined that Brooker was "disabled" andentitled to benefits. Id. at 5-11. Brooker was awarded monthly payments of $525.00 under Title II and $169.00 under Title XVI, for a total of $694.00 per month. ECF No. 53-4 at 2-3.

The United States Housing Act of 1973 ("Housing Act") [42 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq.] provides housing for qualifying families through the funding of residential units owned and operated by "public housing agencies." 42 U.S.C. § 1437a. "Dwelling units assisted under [the Housing Act are] rented only to families who are low-income families at the time of their initial occupancy of such units." 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a)(1). A participating family ordinarily contributes thirty percent of its "monthly adjusted income" to the payment of rent. 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a)(1)(A). The Department of Housing and Urban Development ("Department") covers the additional costs of public housing through payments made to public housing agencies. 42 U.S.C. § 1437c.

The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 amended the Housing Act "[f]or the purpose of aiding lower-income families in obtaining a decent place to live." Pub. L. No. 93-383, § 201(a); 88 Stat. 633, 662 (1974); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(a). This statutory amendment created "the Section 8 housing program," which subsidizes private landlords who rent dwellings to low-income tenants. Cisneros v. Alpine Ridge Group, 508 U.S. 10, 12, 113 S.Ct. 1898, 123 L.Ed.2d 572 (1993). A participating family typically makes rental payments in the amount of thirty percent of its "monthly adjusted income." 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(2)(A)(i). Public housing agencies cover the remaining costs of housing eligible individuals by making payments to landlords pursuant to "housing assistance payment contracts." 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(10).

Pennsylvania's Housing Authorities Law [35 PA. STAT. § 1541 et seq.] creates "housing authorities" for each city and county existing within the Commonwealth. 35 PA. STAT. § 1544(a). A housing authority does not "become operative" until the "governing body" of therelevant city or county "find[s] and declare[s] by proper resolution that there is a need for an Authority to function within the territorial limits of said city or county." 35 PA. STAT. § 1544(a)-(b). On October 24, 1949, the City of Altoona enacted an ordinance recognizing the need for a housing authority to operate within its territorial limits. ECF No. 53-6 at 2-4. This action caused the Altoona Housing Authority ("Authority") to "become operative." 35 PA. STAT. § 1544(a). Defendant Cheryl Johns ("Johns") serves as the Authority's Executive Director. ECF Nos. 46 & 52 at ¶ 7. Defendant Linda Walter ("Walter") serves as the Coordinator for the Section 8 program administered by the Authority. Id. at ¶ 9.

Brooker applied for housing assistance on April 7, 2009. ECF No. 53-12 at 2-3. In a written application submitted to the Authority, Brooker requested that she be permitted to reside in the "Eleventh Street Tower." Id. at 2. That facility was a public housing development owned and operated by the Authority. ECF Nos. 46 & 52 at ¶ 13. It was specifically designated for disabled and elderly tenants. Id. Brooker's application was approved in July 2009. Id. Shortly thereafter, she became a resident of the Eleventh Street Tower. Id. Brooker's monthly rental contribution was set at $207.00. Id. at ¶ 14. On May 12, 2010, Brooker applied for rental assistance through the Section 8 program. ECF No. 53-17 at 2. She took this action in an attempt to move out of the Eleventh Street Tower and into a privately-owned dwelling. ECF No. 53-10 at 8-9.

Brooker experienced a psychotic episode on the morning of May 20, 2010. ECF Nos. 46 & 52 at ¶ 22. Acting on the basis of delusions, she turned on her faucets, boiled pots of water, and obstructed the entrance to her apartment. Id. The situation was discovered by a maintenance employee, who smelled gasoline and unsuccessfully attempted to enter the dwelling. Id. at ¶ 23. Police officers and emergency medical personnel were contacted. Id. The emergencyresponders forcibly entered Brooker's apartment. Id. at ¶ 24. They were accompanied by Linda Holsinger ("Holsinger"), who worked for the Authority as an Interim Administrative Officer. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25; ECF No. 47-3 at 9. The individuals entering the apartment found Brooker to be "disoriented, upset and nude under her open housecoat." ECF No. 46 at ¶ 24. She was transported to the Behavioral Health Unit of the Altoona Regional Health System ("Altoona Regional") for a psychiatric evaluation. Id.

After leaving Brooker's apartment, Holsinger returned to her office, telephoned Johns, and recommended that an "eviction notice" be placed on Brooker's door. ECF Nos. 46 & 52 at ¶ 29. Later that day, a letter to Brooker from Stephanie Price ("Price"), a Project Manager for the Authority, was placed on the door to Brooker's apartment. ECF No. 53-22 at 2-3. The letter, which was dated May 20, 2010, was prefaced with language reading, "NOTICE TO QUIT/EVICTION." Id. at 2 (boldface type, underlining and capitalization in original). The following "reason" was given for Brooker's removal:

Incident on May 20, 2010 at approximately 10:00 A.M. a [sic] smell of gas was resonating from your unit. You refused to admit entry into your unit by AHA staff and had your door barricaded and windows all sealed with tape. The Altoona Fire Department, Altoona Police Department, and Amed had to be called in order to enter your apartment and shut off the gas.

Id. (boldface type and italics omitted). Brooker was instructed to vacate the premises within thirty days. Id. at 2. At the conclusion of the letter, Price informed Brooker of her right to request an "informal conference" under 24 C.F.R. § 966.55 in the event that she disagreed with the Authority's decision. Id. at 3. Brooker was given fourteen days from the date of her receipt of the letter to request such a hearing. Id. The letter further stated that Brooker's failure to request an "informal conference" "w[ould] not constitute a waiver of [her] right to contest the Authority's action at the appropriate judicial level." Id.

Inpatient treatment for mental illness is governed by Pennsylvania's Mental Health Procedures Act ("MHPA") [50 PA. STAT. § 7101 et seq.). 50 PA. STAT. § 7103. Any person who has reached the age of fourteen may voluntarily admit himself or herself for inpatient treatment, provided that he or she "understands the nature of voluntary treatment." 50 PA. STAT. § 7201. A voluntary patient may withdraw from treatment without notice unless, at the time of his or her admission, he or she has agreed to provide advance notice of such a withdrawal before leaving the relevant facility. 50 PA. STAT. § 7206(a). Although the notice period may be agreed to at the time of an individual's admission, it cannot exceed seventy-two hours. Id. The MHPA also provides for the involuntary hospitalization of an individual who is "severely mentally disabled and in need of immediate treatment." 50 PA. STAT. § 7301(a). When the applicable statutory criteria are satisfied, a physician may authorize involuntary treatment for a period not to exceed 120 hours. 50 PA. STAT. § 7302. Additional periods of involuntary treatment may be authorized by a judge or a mental health review officer after hearings conducted in accordance with the MHPA's provisions. 50 PA. STAT. §§ 7303-7305.

When Brooker arrived at Altoona Regional, she voluntarily admitted herself for inpatient psychiatric treatment pursuant to 50 PA. STAT. § 7201. ECF No. 53-36 at 2. The documentary record indicates that, at some point during the course of her hospitalization, Brooker provided written notice of her intent to withdraw from treatment within seventy-two hours. Id. Shortly thereafter, she was apparently "made subject to court-ordered involuntary treatment" in accordance with 50 PA. STAT. § 7304.1 Id. Brooker was discharged from inpatient care on June2, 2010, and advised to seek follow-up treatment on an outpatient basis. Id. At the time of her discharge, Brooker was mentally and physically "stable." Id.

On June 3, 2010, Brooker provided the Authority with written notice of her intent to vacate her apartment in the Eleventh Street Tower. ECF No. 53-24 at 2. She surrendered her keys to the apartment on June 18, 2010. Id. Brooker temporarily moved into the residence of her daughter, Deborah Sills ("Sills"), and awaited a decision concerning her application for Section 8 rental assistance. ECF Nos. 46 & 52 at ¶ 36.

In a letter dated July 22, 2010, Walter informed Brooker that she was "nearing the top" of the Authority's "waiting list" for a one-bedroom unit. ECF No. 53-17 at 3. Walter's letter further...

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