Stevens v. Hous. Auth. of South Bend

Decision Date01 December 2011
Docket NumberNo. 10–2724.,10–2724.
Citation663 F.3d 300
PartiesBridgett STEVENS, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. HOUSING AUTHORITY OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, et al., Defendants–Appellees,andState of Indiana, Intervenor–Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit


Kent L. Hull (argued), Attorney, Indiana Legal Services Incorporated, South Bend, IN, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Michael Paul Palmer (argued), Attorney, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, South Bend, IN, for DefendantsAppellees.

Kathy Bradley, Attorney, Brian A. Clay, Office of the Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, for DefendantAppellee/IntervenorAppellee.

Before POSNER, KANNE and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

Bridgett Stevens lived in federally-subsidized public housing in South Bend, Indiana.1 In 2008, she received three “Notice to Terminate Lease” letters from the Housing Authority of South Bend (HASB), each alleging that she had violated lease provisions that prohibited criminal activity on the property. After receiving the first notice, Stevens sued HASB and a number of individuals, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Fourteenth Amendment, and certain provisions of Indiana state law. After receiving the third notice, she vacated the property. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, dismissing them without prejudice. Stevens appeals.


Stevens entered into a lease with HASB in September 2007. R. 62–5, at 6–23. Stevens was listed on the lease as “Resident.” The lease named her two sons, Alfernando Stevens (then seventeen years old) and Armondo Brown (then eight years old), as “Household Members.” The lease provided, among other things, that certain criminal activities could result in immediate termination of the lease:

Criminal Activity Grounds for Termination by HASB. HASB has a One Strike or “Zero Tolerance” policy with respect to violations of Lease terms regarding criminal activity. Either of the following types of criminal activity by the Resident, any member of the household, a guest, or another person under their control shall be cause for termination of this Lease and eviction from the Dwelling Unit, even in the absence of an arrest or conviction:

(i) Any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of HASB public housing premises by other Residents; or

(ii) Any drug-related criminal activity on or off such premises.


Dwelling Lease, R. 62–5, at 19–20 (emphasis in original).

Peace in the Stevens household was short-lived. On December 25, 2007, Stevens' daughter, Ebony Harmon, came to visit with her children. Harmon and her children were driven to Stevens' apartment building by Harmon's boyfriend, Chester Higgins. At around the same time, Stevens' son, Alfernando flagged down Marcus Henderson for a ride home. Henderson was the father of Ebony Harmon's children. Although there were different accounts of what happened when Henderson and Higgins encountered each other, it is undisputed that the two engaged in a gunfight in the parking lot of Stevens' apartment building. Henderson fled before the police arrived, and Harmon drove a wounded Higgins to the hospital. Both men survived the incident.

On January 14, 2008, a few weeks after the shooting, HASB issued its first “Important 30 Day Notice to Terminate Lease” (“First Notice”) to Stevens. R. 62–5, at 24–26. Although Stevens disagrees with the portrayal of the shooting in the First Notice, she does not dispute that Henderson was at the property because Alfernando asked him for a ride. Nor does she dispute that Higgins was there because he drove Stevens' invited guest, Ebony Harmon, to the apartment. Citing the “Zero Tolerance” policy, the First Notice directed Stevens to vacate the apartment by January 31, 2008.

Instead of moving out, Stevens filed this lawsuit against HASB, the executive director of HASB, and five commissioners of HASB. Stevens alleged that the defendants (1) violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b), by locating her publicly-funded apartment building in a primarily African–American neighborhood, segregating her on account of race; (2) interfered with her right to make and enforce a contract by terminating her lease on account of race; (3) breached a contract between themselves and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), for which Stevens was a third-party beneficiary; and (4) violated her right to equal protection and due process by threatening to take action against her under the Indiana ejectment statute, in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.2 In each instance, Stevens alleged that the defendants' actions caused her emotional distress. She sought a declaratory judgment that the Indiana ejectment statute violates both state and federal law, an injunction against the application of the ejectment statute to her, and both compensatory and exemplary damages.

After Stevens filed her suit but before she served the defendants, HASB filed an action for immediate possession of Stevens' unit in state court. When HASB became aware of the lawsuit, it dismissed the state court action and reasserted the claim for immediate possession as a compulsory counterclaim in the instant case.

On November 6, 2008, HASB issued an “Important 30–day Notice to Terminate Lease for Disturbing the Peace and for an Unauthorized Live In” (“Second Notice”). R. 62–5, at 27–29. The Second Notice asserted that the South Bend Police Department reported to HASB on November 5, 2008 that police officers were called to Stevens' apartment to investigate a fight. The officers determined that Stevens had stabbed her husband, Christopher Broadnax, during an argument.3 The Second Notice also alleged that the police had been called to the apartment on October 2, 2008, for another altercation between Stevens and Broadnax. At that time, Broadnax told police officers that he was on house arrest and was using Stevens' unit as his principal place of residence. He also told the officers that Stevens was high on crack cocaine and had started the fight. The officers determined that there was an outstanding warrant for Stevens for an unrelated charge for retail theft and therefore arrested Stevens. The Second Notice, again citing the “One Strike” policy, directed Stevens to vacate the apartment by December 8, 2008.

Only a few weeks later, on November 24, 2008, HASB issued its final “Important 30–day Notice to Terminate Lease” (“Third Notice”) to Stevens. R. 62–5, at 30–33. Building on the incidents detailed in the Second Notice, HASB asserted that Broadnax accused Stevens of stabbing him on November 5th during an argument over the placement of his house arrest monitor in her home. Broadnax claimed to be living in Stevens' apartment but was not listed as a “Household Member” on the lease.4 Broadnax had also reported to the responding police officers that Stevens was smoking marijuana a few hours before the fight. The officers discovered two “marijuana blunt roaches” on the kitchen counter.5 Based on these incidents, the Third Notice directed Stevens to vacate the apartment by December 24, 2008.

Stevens never challenged the Second or Third Notices. Instead, she vacated the property in January 2009. She left a handwritten note for HASB which read, in its entirety:


South Bend Housing, I Bridgett Stevens have lost my keys to 1265 South Bend Ave. I am now done with unit. thank [sic] you. Ms. Stevens

R. 62–5, at 34. The defendants asserted that Stevens' departure from her apartment was “voluntary,” in the sense that she acquiesced to the Second and Third Notices. Stevens, of course, sees her departure as forced. Nevertheless, she never challenged the Second or Third Notices, and never amended her complaint to add any claims relating to those Notices.

The district court found that Stevens' challenges to the Indiana ejectment statute are moot because she left her apartment in response to the Second and Third Notices. She did not contest the factual or legal bases for those Notices. The court also determined that her claims did not meet any of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine. The court rejected Stevens' segregation claim because it was untimely, because it related only to post-acquisition claims of discrimination, and because she failed to provide any evidence in support of the claim. The court ruled in favor of the defendants on Stevens' Section 1981 claim relating to making and enforcing her lease agreement because she failed to set forth any evidence that the termination of her lease was based on racial discrimination. Instead, Stevens herself claimed only that her lease was terminated because HASB was holding her responsible for the actions of other persons who were not under her control. Stevens' third-party beneficiary claim failed because, among other things, she failed to supply any evidence that HASB breached any contract with HUD. Finally, the court rejected Stevens' claim that the First Notice violated her equal protection and due process rights by holding her responsible for the actions of persons who were not under her control. Stevens conceded facts that demonstrated that one of the shooters, Henderson, was present at the apartment as an invited guest of Stevens' son, who in turn was listed as a Household Member on the lease. Although Henderson was not literally under Stevens' control in the colloquial sense, he was present only because a Household Member invited him and allowed him access to the premises. The district...

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