McDonell v. Harford Cnty. Hous. Agency, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2018

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtAdkins, J.
Citation462 Md. 586,202 A.3d 540
Parties Karen MCDONELL v. HARFORD COUNTY HOUSING AGENCY
Docket NumberNo. 16, Sept. Term, 2018
Decision Date22 January 2019

462 Md. 586
202 A.3d 540

Karen MCDONELL
v.
HARFORD COUNTY HOUSING AGENCY

No. 16, Sept. Term, 2018

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

January 22, 2019


Argued By Ejaz H. Baluch, Jr. (Public Justice Center, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Petitioner.

Amicus Curiae the Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc., in Support of Petitioner: Michelle Salomon Madaio, Esquire, Albert J. Matricciani, Jr., Esquire, Carolyn P. Johnson, Esquire, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc., 201 N. Charles Street, Suite 1104, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Argued By Bradley J. Neikel, Sr. Asst. Co. Atty. (Harford County Law Department, Bel Air, MD), on brief, for Respondent.

Argued Before: Barbera, C.J.; Greene,* Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

Adkins, J.

202 A.3d 544
462 Md. 593

To paraphrase Justice William Brennan in the landmark decision Goldberg v. Kelly , 397 U.S. 254, 265, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970), public assistance programs are no mere charity. They are the very means by which we live out our creed to "promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." U.S. Const. pmbl. To discontinue such aid is no small matter and has consequences well beyond the single individual for whom the assistance has been terminated. In this case, we evaluate housing voucher termination procedures and consider whether they are both adequately protective of public housing voucher recipients and limitedly burdensome on public housing officials.

Today we resolve two questions:1 (1) whether Respondent Harford County Housing Agency ("HCHA") terminated Petitioner Karen McDonell's voucher without affording appropriate procedures under Maryland law and the United States Constitution; and (2) whether the HCHA's decision to terminate McDonell's voucher was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

We shall hold that the HCHA complied with procedural due process, that Maryland law required no additional process, and that the record contained substantial evidence.

462 Md. 594

BACKGROUND

Factual Overview and Procedural Posture

On November 4, 2011, Karen McDonell was enrolled in the Housing Choice Voucher Program ("HCVP" or "Voucher Program," but commonly "Section 8"). The HCVP is a federally-funded housing assistance program, administered by the HCHA2 in Harford County, Maryland. Families enrolled in the HCVP must abide by a set of guidelines, explained in detail below, or risk termination of their monthly rental assistance.

McDonell participated in the Voucher Program without issue for more than three years. In February 2015, she fell behind on her obligation to reimburse the HCHA for an overpayment and entered into a Restitution Agreement. Under the agreement, she was required to make monthly payments of $42.22. The amount of the payments was ultimately lowered because McDonell struggled to afford the first-prescribed amount. Even so, she failed to make payments in August and September of 2015.

In June 2015, McDonell was involved in an altercation involving her sister, a neighbor, and the neighbor's daughter. McDonell

202 A.3d 545

was found guilty on two counts of second-degree assault and was incarcerated at the Harford County Detention Center. While McDonell was incarcerated, her mother twice informed the HCHA that McDonell and her family were not residing in the home: once on October 1 and once on an unknown date. During her incarceration, McDonell was allegedly denied access to her medication, and consequently, fell into a diabetic coma and was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The HCHA was made aware of this.

McDonell was released from jail on October 15, 2015. Days after her release, McDonell's unit failed a Housing Quality Inspection due to a rodent infestation, and she was ordered to

462 Md. 595

make repairs by November 10. But on November 10, McDonell was not present at the home for the reinspection.

On November 30, 2015, the HCHA sent McDonell a letter notifying her that her Housing Voucher was being terminated for the following reasons:

1. Failure to provide access to your unit for the required Housing Quality Standard (HQS) Inspection scheduled for November 10, 2015.

2. Failure to notify the Housing Agency that your family was not residing in the assisted unit. (According to the Maryland Judiciary Case Search, you were incarcerated from September 8, 2015, through October 14, 2015.)

3. On June 9, 2015, you were charged with two counts of Second Degree Assault in the District Court for Harford County. On September 8, 2015, the District Court of Harford County listed the disposition for both charges as guilty.

4. Failure to pay restitution to the Housing Agency in accordance with the restitution agreement you signed on February 5, 2015. The last payment made on your accoun[t] was October 19, 2015.

The letter also advised McDonell that her housing assistance would terminate December 31, 2015 and that she had the right to request an informal hearing within 14 days. McDonell requested an informal hearing, which was held on December 21, 2015. The Hearing Officer ("HO") issued a decision upholding the termination on January 6, 2016, which is excerpted at length below.

McDonell sought judicial review in the Circuit Court for Harford County. McDonell argued that: the hearing was "unfair," she never received notice of the reinspection, her mother promptly notified the HCHA of McDonell's incarceration, she was "caught up" on her restitution payments, and she was "falsely" charged with two counts of second-degree assault. The Circuit Court determined that the record contained substantial evidence to justify the HCHA's decision to terminate

462 Md. 596

McDonell's voucher. The judge upheld the termination on all four grounds listed in the notice.

In an unreported decision, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the decision of both the Circuit Court and the HO. While finding the due process issues unpreserved, the intermediate appellate court went on to hold that, even if the issue was properly before it, "the Housing Agency did not violate appellant's due process rights." It also held that "the [HCHA's] decision to terminate appellant's Housing Vouchers was supported by substantial evidence in the record and not premised upon an erroneous legal conclusion."

HUD Regulations and the Informal Hearing Procedure

Congress established the HCVP with the express purpose of "promot[ing] the

202 A.3d 546

general welfare of the Nation ...." 42 U.S.C. § 1437(a)(1). In doing so, Congress sought to "remedy the unsafe housing conditions" and "address the shortage of housing affordable to low-income families." Id. § 1437(a)(1)(A)–(B). The Voucher Program is funded by the federal government, regulated and overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") and administered by state and local public housing agencies ("PHAs"). See id. § 1437f. Congress noted its intent to "vest in public housing agencies that perform well[ ] the maximum amount of responsibility and flexibility in program administration," so long as the agency is "appropriate[ly] accountab[le] to public housing residents, localities, and the general public." Id. § 1437(a)(1)(C).

PHAs are required to "comply with HUD regulations," issued in the Code of Federal Regulations, and "other binding program directives." 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(a). Among these is the requirement to provide individuals with the opportunity for an informal hearing when their housing vouchers have been terminated. See id. § 982.555. Under the regulations, a "PHA must give a participant family an opportunity for an informal hearing" to consider whether the PHA's decision is "in accordance with the law" when, inter alia , the PHA decides to terminate assistance: (1) due to "the [participant]

462 Md. 597

family's action or failure to act," explained in 24 C.F.R. § 982.552 ; or (2) "because the participant family has been absent from the assisted unit for longer than the maximum period permitted under PHA policy and HUD rules." Id. § 982.555(a)(1)(v).

In those circumstances, the PHA "must give the family prompt written notice" of the termination of assistance. Id. § 982.555(c)(2). This notice must include: (1) a "brief statement" of the reasons for the termination decision; (2) a statement that the family may request an informal hearing regarding the decision; and (3) the deadline for requesting the informal hearing. Id. § 982.555(c)(2)(i)–(iii). Additionally, if an informal hearing is requested, it must occur before housing assistance is terminated. Id. § 982.555(a)(2).

HUD regulations also provide guidance regarding hearing procedures. Both the family and the PHA are given an opportunity to conduct discovery. The family "must be given...

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13 practice notes
  • Miller-Phoenix v. Balt. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, No. 209, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 29, 2020
    ..."to ensure fairness for the parties involved and to promote orderly judicial administration," McDonell v. Harford County Hous. Agency , 462 Md. 586, 602, 202 A.3d 540 (2019) (quoting Jones v. State , 379 Md. 704, 714, 843 A.2d 778 (2004) ). Here, the arguments Mr. Miller-Phoenix now presses......
  • Miller-Phoenix v. Balt. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, No. 209
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 29, 2020
    ...are "to ensure fairness for the parties involved and to promote orderly judicial administration," McDonell v. Harford County Hous. Agency, 462 Md. 586, 602 (2019) (quoting Jones v. State, 379 Md. 704, 714 (2004)). Here, the arguments Mr. Miller-Phoenix now presses were not preserved for app......
  • Jewell v. Md. Real Estate Comm'n, No. 2603
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 2, 2021
    ...A.2d at 381 (citations omitted).Lawson v. Bowie State University, 421 Md. 245, 256 (2011). Accord McDonnell v. Harford Cty. Hous. Agency, 462 Md. 586, 619-20 (2019). As this Court has explained, however, for a reviewing court to "perform properly its examination function, an administrative ......
  • Watson v. Bd. of Educ. for Prince George's Cnty., 2006-2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 20, 2021
    ...are to ensure fairness for the parties involved and to promote orderly judicial administration," McDonell v. Harford County Hous. Agency, 462 Md. 586, 602 (2019) (citation omitted). Here, Ms. Watson did not identify the basis for her bald constitutional claim at the administrative level or ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Miller-Phoenix v. Balt. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, No. 209, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 29, 2020
    ..."to ensure fairness for the parties involved and to promote orderly judicial administration," McDonell v. Harford County Hous. Agency , 462 Md. 586, 602, 202 A.3d 540 (2019) (quoting Jones v. State , 379 Md. 704, 714, 843 A.2d 778 (2004) ). Here, the arguments Mr. Miller-Phoenix now presses......
  • Miller-Phoenix v. Balt. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, No. 209
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 29, 2020
    ...are "to ensure fairness for the parties involved and to promote orderly judicial administration," McDonell v. Harford County Hous. Agency, 462 Md. 586, 602 (2019) (quoting Jones v. State, 379 Md. 704, 714 (2004)). Here, the arguments Mr. Miller-Phoenix now presses were not preserved for app......
  • Jewell v. Md. Real Estate Comm'n, No. 2603
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 2, 2021
    ...A.2d at 381 (citations omitted).Lawson v. Bowie State University, 421 Md. 245, 256 (2011). Accord McDonnell v. Harford Cty. Hous. Agency, 462 Md. 586, 619-20 (2019). As this Court has explained, however, for a reviewing court to "perform properly its examination function, an administrative ......
  • Watson v. Bd. of Educ. for Prince George's Cnty., 2006-2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 20, 2021
    ...are to ensure fairness for the parties involved and to promote orderly judicial administration," McDonell v. Harford County Hous. Agency, 462 Md. 586, 602 (2019) (citation omitted). Here, Ms. Watson did not identify the basis for her bald constitutional claim at the administrative level or ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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