Norris v. Murfreesboro Leased Hous. Assocs. I, LP, 3:18-cv-00750

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJUDGE CAMPBELL
Docket NumberNO. 3:18-cv-00750,3:18-cv-00750
Decision Date26 October 2020

d/b/a CHARIOT POINTE APARTMENTS, et al., Defendants.

NO. 3:18-cv-00750


October 26, 2020



Plaintiff April Tenille Norris, a pro se Tennessee resident, filed this action in August 2018. She has been granted pauper status. The Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 10) is before the Court to determine whether, following the dismissal of two Defendants as parties (see Doc. Nos. 24, 36), any claims remain under the screening standard for cases filed in forma pauperis. And as explained below, two claims remain against the Murfreesboro Housing Authority: a reasonable accommodation claim under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a due process claim regarding Plaintiff's termination from the Shelter Plus Care Program.


A. Factual Allegations and State Court Proceedings

Plaintiff and her minor child lived at Chariot Pointe Apartments in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Doc. No. 1 at 1-2; Doc. No. 10 at 1). Chariot Pointe was owned by Murfreesboro Leased Housing Associated I, LP ("MLHA") (Doc. No. 16 at 2) and managed by Dominium Management Services (Doc. No. 1 at 1-2, 5; Doc. No. 10 at 1, 3). Plaintiff has a "mental health

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diagnosis,"1 and participated in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's ("HUD") Shelter Plus Care Program, which provides rental assistance to "people with a chronic history of homelessness and severe disabilities." (Doc. No. 10 at 2-3). The Program requires housing providers to consider making reasonable accommodations before evicting a tenant. (Id.).

The Murfreesboro Housing Authority ("MHA") is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Shelter Plus Care Program in Rutherford County. (Id. at 3). MHA must ensure that program participants have access to "supportive services and optional mental health services." (Id.). In this case, MHA required Plaintiff to receive ongoing services for her disability, to be verified at least quarterly by her service provider. (Doc. No. 10 at 8; Doc. No. 10-1 at 49). Plaintiff alleges that she received treatment through the Mental Health Cooperative ("MHC") (Doc. No. 10 at 1-2; Doc. No. 10-1 at 53), and then through Volunteer Behavioral Health System ("VBHS") (Doc. No. 10 at 10; Doc. No. 10-1 at 82).

In October 2016, Plaintiff started asking MHA and MHC for assistance relocating to a new residence because a construction project at Chariot Pointe was negatively affecting her mental health. (Doc. No. 10 at 3, 8-9; Doc. No. 10-1 at 53). In November 2016, Plaintiff submitted a "Notice to Vacate" her apartment on her lease expiration date of February 1, 2017. (Doc. No. 10 at 3; Doc. No. 10-1 at 13). The reason given on the notice was that "the disorganization with construction and management ha[d] caused [her] mental distress." (Id.). A handwritten note on the notice states that it was "canceled" on January 7, 2017. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 13).

On February 9, 2017, Plaintiff received a "Notice of Lease Infraction" from Amber Prater, a Community Manger for Dominium Management Services. (Doc. No. 10 at 3; Doc. No. 10-1 at

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1). The notice stated that Plaintiff's lease would not be renewed because she violated her lease by acting in a loud, obnoxious, or threatening manner at the Chariot Pointe office. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 1). Plaintiff characterizes the asserted lease infraction as "disability related behavior." (Doc. No. 10 at 1). She also alleges that this incident was related to a ten-month delay in repairing Plaintiff's dishwasher and hazardous conditions left by a maintenance technician. (Id. at 2).

On February 15, 2017, Plaintiff received a message from Sarah Jane Milliren, a Dominium Regional Manager, stating that Plaintiff was not "100% finished with the recertification." (Doc. No. 10-1 at 2). Milliren also stated that, in Tennessee, Dominium could "give a 3 day notice [of tenancy termination] due to the incident that happened last week," but that Prater had given Plaintiff until February 28. (Id.). Milliren stated that she could not "extend past that seeing as it is the most generous time frame allowable." (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Milliren's statement regarding her recertification being incomplete was "false." (Doc. No. 10 at 2).

In March 2017, Plaintiff filed a "Fair Housing Complaint" with the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, and that section referred it to HUD. (Doc. No. 10 at 12; Doc. No. 10-1 at 42-44). The complaint stated that Deborah Fox, an MHA employee, discriminated against Plaintiff by denying her housing in Rutherford County "[a]s a previously homeless person with a mental disability." (Id. at 42-43). Plaintiff again stated that the asserted lease infraction at Chariot Pointe was "caused by [her] mental illness." (Id. at 43). According to the HUD complaint, after receiving the notice of non-renewal from Prater, Plaintiff requested help finding alternative housing from the apartment manager, MHA, and MHC. (Doc. No. 10 at 3; Doc. No. 10-1 at 43). However, none of these parties attempted to provide Plaintiff a reasonable accommodation (Doc. No. 10 at 3-4), and Plaintiff received only "the list of properties that they give all tenants" (Doc. No. 10-1 at 43). The HUD complaint also stated that after Plaintiff contacted

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"local government officials," MHA and apartment managers "attempted to [conduct] unannounced inspections and after hours pre moveout inspections," and her mental health provider requested she take a drug test. (Id.).

On April 14, 2017, Plaintiff and Chariot Pointe executed a "Guarantee of Payment Agreement" that specified Plaintiff would pay her total balance owed, including $18 in late fees and a $25 fee for insufficient funds, on or before May 3. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 35). Plaintiff alleges that she attempted to pay this balance, along with her May rent, on May 5, but Chariot Pointe's attorney "refused to accept the payment." (Doc. No. 10 at 4).

On May 9, 2017, Chariot Pointe filed a Detainer Warrant against Plaintiff in the Rutherford County General Sessions Court, seeking possession of Plaintiff's apartment. (Doc. No. 10 at 4; Doc. No. 10-1 at 38). Plaintiff filed a pro se "Sworn Denial," stating that the case should be dismissed for three reasons: (1) Chariot Pointe's attorney did not respond to Plaintiff's attempt to pay on May 5; (2) it was against Section 8 housing guidelines to evict a tenant for late fees and a returned check fee; and (3) the eviction was in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints about the construction project. (Doc. No. 10 at 6; Doc. No. 10-1 at 40). On May 30, the state court dismissed this case on Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 38). Plaintiff alleges that the dismissal was for failure to "follow the HUD HAP contract eviction procedures" (Doc. No. 10 at 5).

Plaintiff continued to reside at Chariot Pointe but refused to sign another lease. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 47). She alleges that MHA was aware of Chariot Pointe's attempt to evict her, but "failed to address the violation" that led to dismissal of Chariot Pointe's case. (Doc. No. 10 at 5-6; Doc. No. 10-1 at 41). Plaintiff also alleges that MHA "continued making rental assistance payments but refused to assist [her] with finding alternate/replacement housing to remove her and her minor child from the hostile living environment." (Doc. No. 10 at 5).

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Plaintiff alleges that, in early July 2017, someone stole a laptop computer from her apartment when she was out of town due to "the retaliatory failure to make repairs to the [front] door lock." (Doc. No. 10 at 7; Doc. No. 10-1 at 47). On July 10, Plaintiff filed a civil action against Chariot Pointe in the Rutherford County General Sessions Court, seeking "statutory damages for each Fair Housing violation and HUD HAP contract violation[,] $250 loss of property due to negligence, [and] retaliation." (Doc. No. 16-1 at 2). On August 18, the state court entered a default judgment against Chariot Pointe for $24,999.99 after it failed to respond to Plaintiff's allegations. (Doc. No. 10 at 7; Doc. No. 16-2 at 3).

Also in August 2017, Plaintiff received an email and letter from MHA employee Deborah Fox. The email encouraged Plaintiff to continue paying rent. (Doc. No. 10 at 7; Doc. No. 10-1 at 48). And the letter reminded Plaintiff that the Shelter Plus Care Program required her to "receive ongoing services for [her] disability," to be verified at least quarterly by her service provider. (Doc. No. 10 at 8; Doc. No. 10-1 at 49). The letter stated that, if Plaintiff did not provide contact information for her service provider properly report the value of the services she was receiving, she may not be eligible to receive continued rental assistance. (Id.).

On December 21, 2017, MHA issued Plaintiff a voucher to move with the Shelter Plus Care Program. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 71). On January 2, 2018, MHA conducted a "Home Quality Standard" inspection of Plaintiff's apartment. (Doc. No. 10 at 8; Doc. No. 10-1 at 51). MHA found that the apartment did not meet the required standards and warned Chariot Pointe that it would stop making Housing Assistance Payments effective March 1, 2018, unless the unsatisfactory conditions were corrected. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 58). Plaintiff received extensions of her moving voucher through April 30, 2018. (Doc. No. 10 at 9-10; Doc. No. 10-1 at 71-73).

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Meanwhile, Chariot Pointe appealed the state default judgment to the Rutherford County Circuit Court. (Doc. No. 16-2 at 2-3). On March 23, 2018, it filed a Counterclaim for Possession, Rents, and Other Relief. (Doc. No. 10-1 at 77). Plaintiff alleges that this Counterclaim included "frivolous affidavits that gave [the] false/incorrect material facts to mislead the court to believe that [Plaintiff's] Shelter Plus Care voucher expired on February 28, 2018[,] making her...

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