Carter v. Lynn Housing Authority, SJC-09785.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtMarshall
Citation880 N.E.2d 778,450 Mass. 626
PartiesPamela CARTER v. LYNN HOUSING AUTHORITY.
Decision Date13 February 2008
Docket NumberSJC-09785.
880 N.E.2d 778
450 Mass. 626
Pamela CARTER
v.
LYNN HOUSING AUTHORITY.
SJC-09785.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex.
Argued November 8, 2007.
Decided February 13, 2008.

[880 N.E.2d 779]

Jennifer G. Hayden (James Breslauer, Lynn, with her) for the plaintiff.

Webb F. Primason, Lynn, for the defendant.

Richard M. Glassman & Thomas P. Murphy, for Disability Law Center, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: MARSHALL, C.J., GREANEY, IRELAND, SPINA, COWIN, CORDY, & BOTSFORD, JJ.

MARSHALL, C.J.


450 Mass. 626

The plaintiff, Pamela Carter, commenced an action in the Northeast Division of the Housing Court Department against the defendant, Lynn Housing Authority (LHA), after the LHA terminated her Section 8 rent subsidy assistance.1

450 Mass. 627

A judge in the Housing Court allowed the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment,

880 N.E.2d 780

annulled and set aside the termination of her Section 8 rent assistance, and ordered that assistance be reinstated.2 The LHA appealed, and the Appeals Court, by a divided court, reversed and ordered that judgment enter for the LHA. Carter v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 66 Mass.App. Ct. 117, 127, 851 N.E.2d 437 (2006) (Carter). We granted the plaintiffs application for further appellate review. After hearing oral argument in March, 2007, the six Justices who heard the case were equally divided in opinion. Pursuant to Mass. R.A.P. 24.1, 416 Mass. 1601 (1994), we issued an order so stating, the effect of which was as if the court had denied the application for further appellate review. We thereafter allowed the plaintiffs petition for rehearing, and the case was reargued in November, 2007.

We agree with the Housing Court judge's conclusion, and the opinion of the dissenting Justice in the Appeals Court, Carter, supra at 127, 851 N.E.2d 437 (Duffly, J. dissenting), that the LHA hearing officer who upheld the termination of the plaintiffs Section 8 benefits erred by failing to indicate that he had considered "all relevant circumstances" as specified in 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(2)(i)(2007).3 We vacate the judgment of the Housing Court and

450 Mass. 628

remand the case to the hearing officer for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.4

1. Background. On or about March 1, 2000, the plaintiff and her two children moved into an apartment located at 20 Wyman Street in Lynn. The plaintiff was the holder of a Section 8 rent subsidy housing choice voucher administered by the LHA, and pursuant to a contract between the landlord and the LHA, payment of a rent subsidy was made on the plaintiff s behalf. As required by 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(8) (2000), the apartment was inspected prior to the plaintiffs occupancy, and again on or about April 1, 2001, and February 26, 2002.5 At all times it was found to be free from violations of the housing quality standards set forth by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the Section 8 program.

880 N.E.2d 781

Thereafter, for reasons that are not evident from the record, the plaintiffs landlord, Robert Ryan, commenced a summary process action against her. On June 26, 2002, a written agreement for judgment, signed by the plaintiff, Ryan, and a housing specialist,6 was filed with the court. By its terms, the plaintiff and Ryan

450 Mass. 629

agreed to the mutual termination, of the plaintiffs lease. The agreement also provided for the return to the plaintiff of her security deposit, as well as approximately $1,000 in overcharges; that the plaintiff would vacate the apartment by September 2, 2002; and that each party waived any then-existing claims against each other. The plaintiff moved into a new apartment, with one of her children, on or about September 2, 2002. Nearly three months later, her previous landlord, Ryan, commenced a small claims action asserting that after the parties entered into the June, 2002, agreement, the plaintiff caused excessive damage, beyond normal wear and tear, to Ryan's apartment. After a trial, at which the plaintiff did not have legal representation, a Housing Codrt clerk-magistrate found for Ryan and awarded him damages for "waste" in the amount of $1,440.7

After learning of the judgment against the plaintiff, the LHA notified the plaintiff by letter dated April 11, 2003, that it was terminating her Section 8 rent subsidy assistance on the basis that she had violated one of her obligations under the Section 8 program. The letter stated:

"[T]he following are reasons for termination:

"982.551 Obligation of participant.

"(c) HQS [housing quality standards] Breach caused by family. The family is responsible for an HQS breach caused by the family as described in [24 C.F.R. §] 982.404(b)(iii) [i.e., when] [a]ny family member of the household or guest damages the dwelling unit or premises (damages beyond ordinary wear and tear)."

The letter also indicated that the plaintiff had ten days within which to request an informal hearing, and that at the time of any such hearing the plaintiff should bring "any written correspondence, documentation that may support your appeal," and provided the address for a legal service agency should the plaintiff require assistance with her appeal.

450 Mass. 630

The plaintiff duly requested a hearing, which was held on May 8, 2003. At the hearing, according to the hearing officer's decision, the plaintiff, who did not have counsel, presented evidence regarding the condition of the apartment and pointed out that in interrogatories answered by Ryan, apparently as part of the earlier small claims action, Ryan had stated that he had made all repairs, although

880 N.E.2d 782

neither the hearing officer's decision nor the record makes clear the time period to which the plaintiff's evidence refers. Two witnesses also appeared on the plaintiff's behalf, testifying that they had observed how she maintained her apartment and that they knew her to be someone who cleaned and took care of her apartment. In his written decision, which issued on May 16, 2003, the hearing officer made the following "findings," which we repeat here in their entirety:

"1. HUD regulations are clear and unequivocal that a family is responsible for a breach caused by the family as described in Section 982.404(b)(iii). See Section 982.552(b)(4)(c).

"2. Section 982.404(b)(iii) says that it is a breach if any member of a household causes damages beyond reasonable wear and tear to a dwelling unit.

"3. There is a court decision against [the plaintiff] awarding her former landlord damages in the sum of $1,440.00 for waste.

"4. Accordingly, the housing authority proceeding under the relevant HUD regulations has grounds to terminate [the plaintiff's] rental subsidy assistance.

"5. In fact, Section 982.404(3) states that if a family has caused such a breach, the housing authority `must take prompt and vigorous action' and may terminate assistance.

"6. The housing authority has proceeded to terminate rental subsidy assistance and [the plaintiff] IS AND IS HEREBY FOUND TO BE TERMINATED."

Oh May 28, 2003, the plaintiff, now represented by counsel, filed her complaint in the Housing Court appealing from the

450 Mass. 631

decision of the hearing officer. She also requested a stay of the termination of benefits while the action was pending, which (as noted) a Housing Court judge granted, on May 29, 2003.

The plaintiff and the LHA then filed cross motions for summary judgment. In support of her motion, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit in which she stated that when she moved out of the Wyman Street apartment, the apartment was not damaged beyond normal wear and tear, and that after she left, Ryan, her landlord, moved into the apartment. She also stated that at the small claims hearing before the clerk-magistrate, she testified that she had not caused the damage. In support of its own motion for summary judgment, the LHA submitted an affidavit of David Moore, the LHA rental assistance program manager who had made the initial decision to terminate the plaintiff's Section 8 benefits. In his affidavit, Moore stated that prior to sending the plaintiff the April 11, 2003, Section 8 termination letter, he "reviewed the facts, and considered the factors set forth in 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(2)(i)," see note 3, supra, and decided that the plaintiff "and/or her family had breached their obligations under the rent subsidy program and that the appropriate remedy was to terminate assistance to the family" (emphasis added).8

The motion judge concluded that the termination of the plaintiff's benefits was not in accordance with the applicable regulation, 24 C.F.R. § 982.552, because there was no indication in either the program manager's or the hearing officer's decision that the LHA "properly considered `all relevant circumstances such as the seriousness of the case, the extent of participation or culpability of individual family members, mitigating circumstances related to

880 N.E.2d 783

the disability of a family member, and the effects of denial or termination of assistance on other family members who were not involved in the action or failure' as required by 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(2)(1)." He also noted that there was no indication that the LHA considered other remedies, aside from termination. In concluding that imposing the sanction of "outright termination of assistance" constituted an abuse

450 Mass. 632

of discretion, the motion judge considered nine facts.9,10 He ordered that the Section 8 assistance be reinstated.

450 Mass. 633

2. Discussion. We review a grant of summary judgment to determine whether there is any "genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Mass. R. Civ. P, 56(c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). See Augat, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 410 Mass. 117, 120, 571 N.E.2d 357 (1991). Here, where we are considering the termination of a housing benefit, which is a "protected interest," Spence v....

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37 practice notes
  • Figgs v. Bos. Hous. Auth., SJC–11532.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 18, 2014
    ...v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 66 Mass.App.Ct. 103, 111–112, 845 N.E.2d 1160 (2006). See also Carter v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 450 Mass. at 638 n. 20, 880 N.E.2d 778, quoting Baldwin v. Housing Auth. of Camden, 278 F.Supp.2d 365, 371 (D.N.J.2003) (housing authorities not required under law, nor encouraged......
  • Costa v. Fall River Housing Authority, SJC-10197.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • April 13, 2009
    ...has a right to an "informal hearing" before the termination takes effect. 24 C.F.R. § 982.555(a)(1)(v). See Carter v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 450 Mass. 626, 633-634, 880 N.E.2d 778 (2008) (Carter). The HUD regulations go on to state that the informal hearing "may be conducted by any person or per......
  • Costa v. Fall River Housing Authority, No. 06-P-1094.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • February 27, 2008
    ...845 N.E.2d 1160 (2006) (citing Federal decisions); Carter v. Lynn Hous. Authy., 66 Mass. App.Ct., 117, 124, 851 N.E.2d 437, S.C., 450 Mass. 626, 880 N.E.2d 778 (2008).9 As the judge in this case observed, the HUD regulations and the more general Goldberg due process safeguards provide the s......
  • McDonell v. Harford Cnty. Hous. Agency, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 22, 2019
    ...case, the HO's decision must respond, in some fashion, to the evidence presented at the hearing. In Carter v. Lynn Housing Authority , 450 Mass. 626, 880 N.E.2d 778 (2008), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a decision fell short in that regard. "[T]he thrust of the testimon......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • Figgs v. Bos. Hous. Auth., SJC–11532.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 18, 2014
    ...v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 66 Mass.App.Ct. 103, 111–112, 845 N.E.2d 1160 (2006). See also Carter v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 450 Mass. at 638 n. 20, 880 N.E.2d 778, quoting Baldwin v. Housing Auth. of Camden, 278 F.Supp.2d 365, 371 (D.N.J.2003) (housing authorities not required under law, nor encouraged......
  • Costa v. Fall River Housing Authority, SJC-10197.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • April 13, 2009
    ...has a right to an "informal hearing" before the termination takes effect. 24 C.F.R. § 982.555(a)(1)(v). See Carter v. Lynn Hous. Auth., 450 Mass. 626, 633-634, 880 N.E.2d 778 (2008) (Carter). The HUD regulations go on to state that the informal hearing "may be conducted by any person or per......
  • Costa v. Fall River Housing Authority, No. 06-P-1094.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • February 27, 2008
    ...845 N.E.2d 1160 (2006) (citing Federal decisions); Carter v. Lynn Hous. Authy., 66 Mass. App.Ct., 117, 124, 851 N.E.2d 437, S.C., 450 Mass. 626, 880 N.E.2d 778 (2008).9 As the judge in this case observed, the HUD regulations and the more general Goldberg due process safeguards provide the s......
  • McDonell v. Harford Cnty. Hous. Agency, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 22, 2019
    ...case, the HO's decision must respond, in some fashion, to the evidence presented at the hearing. In Carter v. Lynn Housing Authority , 450 Mass. 626, 880 N.E.2d 778 (2008), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a decision fell short in that regard. "[T]he thrust of the testimon......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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