Davis by Davis v. Philadelphia Housing Authority

Decision Date29 July 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-1679,96-1679
Citation121 F.3d 92
PartiesJonathan DAVIS, a Minor, by his parent and natural guardian, Wendy DAVIS; Wendy Davis, individually and in her own right, Appellants, v. PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY; Miriam L. Shaw, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Robert Savoy (argued), Trevose, PA, for Appellants.

Denise J. Baker (argued), Philadelphia Housing Authority, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellees.

Before: SCIRICA, COWEN, and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.

Jonathan Davis, a minor, and his mother and legal guardian, Wendy Davis, appeal the dismissal of Counts I through III of their complaint asserting claims against the Philadelphia Housing Authority under three separate theories of liability. The Davises argue that the district court erred by concluding they lacked prudential standing to pursue their claims because their rights were not within the "zone of interests" intended to be protected by Congress under the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4821 et seq. ("Lead Act"). We agree and will reverse the order of the district court.

I.

Beginning in approximately July 1993, the Davises rented an apartment from Miriam Shaw. While living in the apartment, Jonathan Davis was exposed to peeling and chipping lead-based paint which caused him to suffer lead poisoning and severe, permanent injury. As a result of Jonathan's poisoning, Wendy Davis incurred medical expenses and allegedly experienced mental distress.

Before the Davises rented the apartment, it had been inhabited by a woman with a child under the age of seven. During that time, the apartment was part of a low-income rental program entitled Section 8. 1 The Section 8 program is administered by the Housing Authority within the City of Philadelphia and subsidizes the rents of low-income tenants within the private housing market. Section 8 housing assistance is provided by the federal government and authorized by federal legislation enacted, inter alia, "to assist the several States and their political subdivisions to remedy the unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions and the acute shortage of decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings for families of lower income...." 42 U.S.C. § 1437. To obtain the housing assistance funding, the Housing Authority enters into an Annual Contributions Contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f.

Under the Lead Act and its implementing regulations, all existing housing which receives housing assistance payments under a program administered by HUD, or otherwise receives more than $5,000 in project-based assistance under a federal housing program, is subject to lead inspection and abatement procedures. 42 U.S.C. § 4822; 24 C.F.R. § 882.109(i); 24 C.F.R. § 35.24. These procedures are intended "to eliminate as far as practicable the hazards of lead-based paint poisoning" with respect to the covered housing. Id. It is clear that the Section 8 program administered by the Housing Authority falls under the requirements of the Lead Act. It is equally clear that, under the Lead Act and its implementing regulations, the Housing Authority, as a condition of receiving federal funding for low-income housing assistance, has a duty to inspect Section 8 apartments for hazards resulting from lead-based paint and to ensure that any such hazards are eliminated as far as practicable. 42 U.S.C. § 4822(a)(1); 24 C.F.R. § 882.109(i); 24 C.F.R. § 35.24(4).

Following Jonathan's injuries, the Davises filed a civil action, alleging federal and state law causes of action against both the Housing Authority and Miriam Shaw. Counts I through III of the complaint asserted claims against the Housing Authority under three separate theories of liability: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) liability to third party beneficiaries for breach of contract; and (3) direct private rights of action. 2 In response, the Housing Authority filed a motion to dismiss the claims against it, arguing that the Davises lacked prudential standing to assert their claims because their rights were not within the "zone of interests" intended to be protected by the Lead Act.

The district court agreed and held that the Davises did not have standing to assert their claims against the Housing Authority. The court reasoned that "[b]ecause Plaintiffs are not participants in the Section 8 housing assistance program, their interests are not consistent with the purpose implicit in the statute at issue.... Plaintiffs do not have standing to pursue the claims at issue due to their lack of Section 8 status." Davis v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., No. 96-1665, 1996 WL 377189, at * 3 (E.D.Pa. July 3, 1996). The court then dismissed Counts I-IV of the complaint. 3

II.

At the outset, we note the limited scope of the issue we are asked to review; namely, whether the district court erred by dismissing the Davis's claims for lack of standing. 4 This issue is analytically distinct from the related question of whether the Lead Act provides Section 8 participants or their successor tenants with either an express or implied cause of action against the Housing Authority for an alleged breach of its duties to inspect for lead-based hazards and to ensure the removal of such hazards in apartment units which are, or at some time were, part of the Section 8 program. In Bowman v. Wilson, 672 F.2d 1145, 1151 n. 10 (3d Cir.1982), we explicitly noted the distinction between a dismissal of a claim for lack of standing based on a failure to satisfy the zone of interests test and a dismissal for failure to state a cause of action. There we stated:

When the question is whether any plaintiffs are entitled to relief under a statute which does not expressly provide the relief which is sought, the question is properly framed as whether a cause of action can be implied. The court must in that case decide whether a newly-fashioned remedial structure should be made available to a class of litigants not expressly entitled to relief under the statute.

In contrast, when there already exists a cause of action prescribing a particular remedy for a defined class of persons and the question is simply whether a particular plaintiff is also entitled to that relief, the question is properly addressed as one of standing. In such a case, the inquiry focuses on whether the plaintiff is the proper person to press the claim.

Id. at 1151 n. 10 (citations omitted). In the present action, the district court dismissed the Davis's claims against the Housing Authority solely on its conclusion that the Davises did not have standing because their interests "are not consistent with the purposes implicit in the statute at issue." Davis, 1996 WL 377189, at * 3. Accordingly, we need not reach the separate question of whether the Lead Act provides the Davises, as successor tenants, with a cause of action against the Housing Authority for its alleged breach of duties.

III.

Turning squarely to the issue of standing, it is undisputed that the Davises were not participants in the Section 8 program at the time they rented the apartment from Miriam Shaw. It is also undisputed, however, that the prior tenants in the apartment were, and therefore during that period the Housing Authority was obligated to perform inspection duties and to ensure that abatement procedures took place pursuant to the Lead Act and its implementing regulations. These facts present us with the central question we must address: whether successor tenants, who move into an apartment that is no longer part of a federal housing program yet are injured as the result of an alleged breach of duty that occurred while the apartment was part of the program, are arguably within the class of persons that Congress intended to benefit under the federal statute at issue. Put another way, are the Davis's rights arguably within the "zone of interests" intended to be protected by Congress under the Lead Act? We conclude that they are and hence, that the district court erred by dismissing the Davis's claims against the Housing Authority based on a lack of standing. 5

A.

The Supreme Court has established three elements necessary to satisfy "the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing":

First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact"--an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of.... Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

United States v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737, 742-43, 115 S.Ct. 2431, 2435, 132 L.Ed.2d 635 (1995) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992)); accord Stehney v. Perry, 101 F.3d 925, 930 (3d Cir.1996). Here, there is no dispute that these constitutional standing requirements are met. The Davis's claims allege: (1) a concrete harm that has already occurred; (2) caused by the Housing Authority's breach of duty to inspect and to ensure abatement; (3) that is redressible by monetary damages to offset medical expenses and mental distress incurred as the result of the harm caused. 6

In addition to the constitutional standing requirements, federal courts have developed prudential standing considerations "that are part of judicial self-government." UPS Worldwide, 66 F.3d at 626 (citation omitted). These considerations require that

(1) a litigant assert his [or her] own legal interests rather than those of third parties, (2) courts refrain from adjudicating abstract questions of wide public significance which amount to generalized grievances, and (3) a litigant demonstrate that her interests are arguably within the zone of interests intended to be protected by the statute, rule or...

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