Sinisgallo v. Town of Islip Hous. Auth.

Decision Date23 May 2012
Docket NumberNo. 12–CV–1733(ADS)(AKT).,12–CV–1733(ADS)(AKT).
Citation865 F.Supp.2d 307
PartiesKathie SINISGALLO, Steve Tsilimparis, Plaintiffs, v. TOWN OF ISLIP HOUSING AUTHORITY, Richard Wankel, in his capacity as Executive Director of The Town of Islip Housing Authority, Paul E. Levitt, in his capacity as Hearing Officer, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York


Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee Inc., by: Darlene Rosch, Esq., of Counsel, Islandia, NY, for Plaintiffs.

William R. Garbarino, Esq., Sayville, NY, for Town of Islip Housing Authority and Richard Wankel.


SPATT, District Judge.

The Plaintiffs, Kathie Sinisgallo (Sinisgallo) and Steve Tsilimparis (Tsilimparis) bring this action against the Defendants Town of Islip Housing Authority (IHA), Richard Wankel, and Paul E. Levitt, alleging that the Defendants terminated their tenancy in public housing in violation of their constitutional due process rights; United States Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(k); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 794, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act (the “FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. Presently before the Court is the Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiffs' motion is granted.


The defendant Town of Islip Housing Authority is a municipal housing authority, created in accordance with the provisions of the New York State Public Housing Law. The IHA is categorized as a public housing authority (“PHA”) under the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) regulations. Pursuant to HUD regulations, the IHA maintains a public housing program (“the Program”), through which it provides housing for eligible families, including low income families and families with elderly and disabled individuals. The defendant Richard Wankel is the Executive Director in charge of the Program for the IHA.

On June 10, 2010, the plaintiffs, Kathie Sinisgallo and Steve Tsilimparis, entered into a lease for public housing provided by the IHA located at 81 Mill Pond Lane, Bay Shore, New York. On the lease, Sinisgallo is identified as the “tenant” and Tsilimparis is identified as a “co-tenant”. Both Sinisgallo and Tsilimparis assert that they are mentally disabled individuals. Sinisgallo contends that she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia; receives psychiatric treatment for her illness from the Hands Across Long Island Personal Recovery Program; and that her income consists of Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) payments because she is permanently disabled. According to Tsilimparis, he suffers from bipolar disorder; receives psychiatric care for his illness from the Family Service League's South Shore Family Center Clinic; and his income consistsof Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments because he is permanently disabled. Although not married, the Plaintiffs have been engaged in a romantic relationship for more than thirty years and have lived together continuously for that period. The Plaintiffs described their relationship as one that is [s]imilar to a spousal relationship”. (Compl., ¶ 3.)

On or about May 23, 2011, Sinisgallo submitted a complaint to defendant Richard Wankel's office, stating that her neighboring tenant, Michael Collins, shot the Plaintiffs' pet cat with his BB gun and injured the cat superficially. Subsequently, on May 26, 2011, Tsilimparis confronted Collins while Collins was spraying the grass in front of the Plaintiffs' apartment. The culmination of this interaction resulted in Tsilimparis physically striking Collins.

On July 13, 2011, Collins filed a complaint with the Suffolk County Police Department regarding the May 26, 2011 altercation. The criminal violation was Adjourned in Contemplation of Dismissal, pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 170.55.

On May 27, 2011, Sinisgallo received a notice from the IHA terminating her tenancy and participation in the Program. On June 15, 2011, Sinisgallo requested an informal settlement telephone conference to review the determination to terminate her residency. This conference was held between Sinisgallo and Wankel. In this informal hearing, Sinisgallo was not represented by counsel, and argued that her tenancy should not be terminated because Tsilimparis struck Collins in self-defense. On August 1, 2011, Sinisgallo received a Summary Decision and termination notice, which stated that the IHA had determined to continue the eviction process. (Compl., Ex. B.) Consistent with IHA procedures, Sinisgallo made a written request for a formal administrative hearing, which was granted.

The administrative hearing to review the termination of the Plaintiff's tenancy was held over two sessions on December 20, 2011 and January 9, 2012. These proceedings were presided over by defendant Paul E. Levitt, a private attorney who was acting in his capacity as a the Hearing Officer.

At the hearing, Levitt heard the testimony of Collins, Wankel, Sinisgallo, Tsilimparis, and Lillian Barnes, a neighbor who witnessed the altercation. The Plaintiffs were represented by counsel and had an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, and submit post-hearing written briefs. At the hearing, the Plaintiffs argued that they were disabled individuals and that Tsilimparis's conduct was caused by his disability. In support of this contention, the Plaintiffs submitted a letter dated September 26, 2011 from Meredith Braddock, Licensed Master Social Worker (“LMSW”) to the Nassau Suffolk Law Services, stating as follows:

Mr. Tsilimparis has been a client at our South Shore Family Center Clinic since 9/08. Mr. Tsilimparis is being treated for Bipolar Disorder. On 5/27/11 Mr. Tsilimparis' medication was adjusted and therapy was intensified due to present symptoms. He is now being seen for weekly individual therapy with Licensed Master Social Worker and monthly medication management with our Psychiatrist. He is being treated with Symbyax, Tegretol and Clonazepam.....

(Compl., Ex. C.) According to the Plaintiffs, during the hearing, they requested a reasonable accommodation based on their various disabilities, which they contend would have permitted them to continue to participate in the Program. In particular, they sought a probationary period during which a further determination could be made that the change to Tsilimparis's medical treatment would continue to prevent a recurrence of his violent behavior towards Collins or other tenants.

Following the hearing, counsel for both sides submitted written memoranda. (Compl., Ex. E.) The Plaintiffs' submission primarily argued that the IHA's decision to terminate their tenancy violated the FHA because they were disabled individuals and therefore entitled to a reasonable accommodation. In addition to other exhibits, the Plaintiffs attached to their submission the Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act 14 (May 17, 2004) (“Joint Statement”). (Compl., Ex. E at Ex. A.) For its part, the IHA argued that it was not required to offer a reasonable accommodation to a tenant that engages in illegal behavior, or, in the alternative, that no reasonable accommodation existed that would eliminate the threat posed by Tsilimparis to the other tenants. Finally, the Plaintiffs submitted a supplemental letter on January 27, 2012, arguing that the empirical evidence indicated that the attack was an isolated incident insofar as, since the changes to Tsilimparis's medication, no further incident had occurred despite continued provocation by Collins. (Compl., Ex. F.) In this letter submission, the Plaintiffs reiterated their request for a reasonable accommodation and that the termination of their tenancy be rescinded pursuant to the FHA. ( Id.)

On March 1, 2012, Levitt issued a decision finding that Sinisgallo had violated lease provision paragraphs XIV(a)(7) and IX(k)(L)(1) (“the Decision”). (Compl., Ex. D.) In the Decision, after summarizing the testimony, Levitt stated that, based on “the evidence presented at the hearing and the post-hearing arguments”, he found that Steven Tsilimparis did strike Michael Collins with his fist causing injury and bleeding to Collins' left eye on or about May 26, 2011.” (Decision at 4.) As a result, Levitt held:

I find that since Sinisgallo violated lease provision paragraph XIV(a)(7) which provides that a lease may be terminated for serious or repeated violations such as criminal activity by tenant, household member, guest or other person under tenant's control. Tsilimparis struck Michael Collins with his fist causing injury and bleeding to Collins' left eye and nose. This was unprovoked activity and was not in self-defense. Tsilimparis threatened the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment of the public housing premises by Collins, a resident of the same project. I also find that Sinisgallo and Tsilimparis violated the “Tenant's Obligations”, more specifically, paragraph IX(k)(L)(1).

(Decision at 7.) Although Levitt discussed the credibility of the various witnesses with respect to the incident, absent from the Decision was any reference to the Plaintiffs' request for a reasonable accommodation or the allegation that the termination of their tenancy violated the FHA. In addition, while Levitt referenced the existence of the letter from Social Worker Braddock regarding Tsilimparis's disability and treatment, he did not explain whether or to what extent it affected his decision.

Thereafter, the IHA commenced a summary holdover proceeding in the Fifth District Court of Suffolk County, Index Number ISLT 12–588, to enforce the eviction of the Plaintiffs (“the eviction proceedings” or the “summary...

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