HUD Not Liable for Site Owner's Alleged Maintenance Deficiencies
Facts: A resident sued HUD, alleging physical and economic injury resulting from deficient maintenance of her housing complex. The resident claimed that the site’s management and the local PHA didn’t respond to her complaints regarding “a broken refrigerator, water leakage and damages, serious mold, bed bugs, roaches, structural, electrical, and other issues.” She claimed that their failure to respond to her complaints caused her and her four children to become ill and to be hospitalized on various occasions. Notably, her only mention of HUD was that Legal Aid filed a grievance with HUD against the PHA.
HUD asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit for failing to state a claim for which relief can be granted, arguing that the resident based her lawsuit on the mistaken belief that HUD owns or manages the site and the PHA.
Ruling: An Alabama district court dismissed the resident’s lawsuit.
Reasoning: HUD produced evidence showing that the site is owned and managed by the PHA, which is governed by a board of commissioners appointed by the mayor of the city. HUD also produced persuasive authority showing that it has no legal duty to ensure the habitability of housing leased by the site and the PHA.
Also, in response to HUD’s motion to dismiss, the resident conceded that she misunderstood HUD’s relationship to the PHA and site, and appeared to allege that her claims should be directed at the site or the PHA rather than HUD. Given this concession, along with the absence of any argument or showing that she had a plausible cause of action against HUD, the court found that the resident hadn’t provided any legitimate reason that her claims against HUD shouldn’t be dismissed.
Despite the fact that the resident named only HUD as a defendant in her lawsuit, the resident asked the court to allow her suit to move forward, presumably against the owners and management of the site and the PHA. The court found that while she could potentially bring her claims in an Alabama state court, she couldn’t bring them in a federal court. This federal court lacks any basis for concluding that the owner or PHA is a citizen of a different state than the resident and her potential claims are state-law claims that do not arise under federal law. Therefore, even if the court dismissed this action with leave to amend, such an order wouldn’t work.
- Johnston v. HUD, April 2018