Copeland v. U.S., Case No. 08-60588-CIV.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
Citation622 F.Supp.2d 1347
Docket NumberCase No. 08-60588-CIV.
PartiesJudy COPELAND, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES, United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Miami Field Office, Defendants.
Decision Date22 December 2008
622 F.Supp.2d 1347
Judy COPELAND, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES, United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Miami Field Office, Defendants.
Case No. 08-60588-CIV.
United States District Court, S.D. Florida.
December 22, 2008.

Judy Copeland, Hollywood, FL, pro se.

Page 1348


JAMES I. COHN, District Judge.

THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint and Incorporated Memorandum of Law [DE 44] ("Motion to Dismiss" or "MTD"). The Court has carefully considered the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff's Response [DE 57], Defendants' Reply [DE 60], the record in this case and the applicable case law, and is otherwise advised in the premises.

This case involves the termination of Plaintiff's benefits under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program ("Section 8"). Plaintiff's benefits were terminated by the Housing Authority of Hollywood, Florida ("Housing Authority") after she was evicted from her residence. The Amended Complaint, filed August 28, 2008 [DE 42], seeks judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's ("HUD") informal investigation into the matter. Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, alleges that HUD's decision that the Housing Authority took "appropriate actions" was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law. Am. Compl. ¶ 3. Plaintiff requests that the Court "vacate and remand" HUD's decision and require HUD to "issue a decision in accordance" with the law. Id. ¶ 14. In the Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that HUD's oversight of the Housing Authority is committed to agency discretion and is not reviewable by this Court.


1. The Regulatory Scheme

The Section 8 program was enacted as part of the United States Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1437(f), in an effort to assist low-income families in obtaining a decent place to live and to promote economically-mixed housing. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(a). The Section 8 program is administered by local public housing authorities that are responsible for, among other things, (1) determining tenant eligibility under the applicable regulations, see 24 C.F.R. § 982.201; (2) providing the selected tenants with an overview of the program and a voucher to obtain benefits, see 24 C.F.R. §§ 982.301 and 982.302; (3) denying and terminating assistance, see 24 C.F.R. § 982.552; and (4) conducting hearings to respond to participants' complaints against the local public housing authorities. See 24 C.F.R. § 966.52.

After a tenant is approved for the Section 8 program and receives a voucher from the local public housing authority, the tenant locates a dwelling unit that is owned by a private landlord. See MTD at 2. The local public housing authority must then approve the dwelling unit and the lease agreement and ensure that all regulatory requirements have been satisfied. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.305. If these conditions are met, the local public housing authority and the landlord enter into a Housing Assistance Payments Contract under which the landlord receives payment of a Section 8 subsidy for rental of the dwelling unit by the tenant. See id. The tenant has responsibilities under the Section 8 program which include disclosing income and resources, allowing inspection of the unit, promptly providing the local public housing authority with any eviction notice and refraining from serious or repeated violations of the lease. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.551.

2. Relevant Facts

The specific circumstances giving rise to this action began on June 20, 2003 when Ms. Copeland's landlord terminated her lease. The landlord terminated the lease because Ms. Copeland violated its terms

Page 1349

by allowing her son to move into her one-bedroom apartment. After the lease was terminated, Ms. Copeland stopped paying her portion of the rent, but she did not vacate the premises. Ms. Copeland was evicted by court order in December 2003 and the eviction order was based solely on Copeland's failure to pay her portion of the rent for the five months following the termination of her lease. On January 7, 2004, the Housing Authority1 sent Ms. Copeland a letter informing her that her failure to pay rent was a "serious violation of the lease" under the Housing Authority regulations and that the regulations mandated that her Section 8 benefits be terminated. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b) ("The PHA must terminate program assistance for a family evicted from housing assisted under the program for serious violation of the lease.").

HUD reviewed the circumstances surrounding the Housing Authority's termination of Ms. Copeland's Section 8 subsidy in response to inquires from Ms. Copeland's representative, Carl Shell. In a letter dated February 3, 2004, HUD's Miami Field Office ("Field Office") represented that it contacted the Housing Authority to discuss the matter in detail. The letter goes on to state that the Field Office found that the termination was in accordance with 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b) because Ms. Copeland was evicted from her unit for the failure to pay rent. In addition, the Field Office found that Ms. Copeland was also in violation of her obligation under 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(g) because she did not promptly supply the Housing Authority with a copy of her eviction notice. The Field Office also found that, contrary to Mr. Shell's assertion, there was no conflict of interest at a hearing to be held on Ms. Copeland's informal appeal as the hearing officer assigned to the matter was not affiliated with the Housing Authority. The letter concluded that the Housing Authority "has taken appropriate actions" regarding Ms. Copeland's situation.

3. Prior Litigation

This is the fourth lawsuit Ms. Copeland has brought regarding the termination of her Section 8 housing subsidy. On September 29, 2004, Ms. Copeland brought suit in Florida state court against the Housing Authority and several of its employees alleging violations of various HUD regulations and claiming that the defendants improperly terminated Ms. Copeland's participation in the Section 8 program. Specifically, she contended that her failure to pay rent was not a "serious violation of the lease" because she stopped paying rent only after her lease had been terminated. After a hearing, the state court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the decision without opinion.

On September 18, 2006, Ms. Copeland filed a second action in state court alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Housing Authority and several of its employees. Ms. Copeland argued that she had been deprived of constitutionally-protected property rights and that the Housing Authority violated federal housing regulations when it terminated her benefits. The Housing Authority and one of its employees, Tim Schwartz, filed separate motions to dismiss. After conducting a hearing, the court dismissed the entire action with prejudice on May 22, 2007. Ms. Copeland initially appealed that decision, but then voluntarily dismissed the appeal to pursue her claims in federal court.

Page 1350

On June 13, 2007, Ms. Copeland filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Housing Authority and its employee, Tim Schwartz. Ms. Copeland brought claims under § 1983 alleging that the termination of her Section 8 housing benefits deprived her of a constitutionally-protected property right and violated due process.2 On December 20, 2007, Judge Adalberto Jordan entered an order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment ruling that Copeland's claim was barred by res judicata. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Judge Jordan's decision on November 25, 2008. See Copeland, 300 Fed.Appx. 843.


At this stage in the litigation, the Court must consider the allegations in the Complaint as true, and accept all reasonable inferences therefrom. Jackson v. Okaloosa County, Fla., 21 F.3d 1531, 1534 (11th Cir.1994). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the `grounds' of his `entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citations omitted). The Court may grant a motion to dismiss when, "on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action." Marshall County Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall County Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir.1993). Pro se complaints are held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers and can only be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears `beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)...

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