PHA and Manager Not Liable for Visiting Child’s Death
Facts: A young child was shot and killed while visiting a resident at an assisted site. During her tenancy, the resident had several lease violations and alleged violations. These problems ranged from having breed-restricted dogs in her apartment, to playing loud music, to allowing individuals not on the lease to live with her.
On April 14, 2011, the manager hand delivered a lease termination letter to the resident, stating that her lease would be terminated in 14 days. And on May 12, 2011, the local PHA filed a forcible detainer action based on the resident’s failure to pay her April 2011 rent. The resident was eventually evicted in July 2011.
On May 13, 2011, the young child and his mother went to the resident’s apartment for a cookout. The child played inside the apartment with other children while the mother socialized outside with the resident and others. A neighborhood man, who was not a resident of the site, approached the group outside the apartment. The neighborhood man fired several gunshots into the windows of the apartment, wounding the boy, who died three days later.
The shooting incident arose from a conflict between the resident and another woman. The conflict had begun several months prior to the shooting, and the child’s mother was aware of the ongoing conflict. The mother had known the resident for over a year prior to the May 2011 incident, and stated that she went to visit the resident often.
The child’s mother sued the local PHA and its property manager for negligence for not evicting the resident from the apartment before the neighborhood man shot and killed her son. The trial court granted a judgment without a trial in the PHA’s favor because it ruled the PHA and the manager were entitled to immunity from litigation liability as a government agency.
Rulings: A Kentucky appeals court agreed with the lower court’s decision.
Reasoning: Under state law, the state of Kentucky and its counties have immunity, a judicial doctrine that prevents the government or its political subdivisions, departments, and agencies from being sued without its consent. Here, the court concluded that the PHA is a government agency of its county. The PHA performs the government function of addressing state-level concerns regarding “unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions and a shortage of safe and sanitary dwelling accommodations for persons of low income,” which the Kentucky General Assembly has declared constitutes an “essential government function” that addresses public health and safety concerns of the state.
With regard to the property manager, because she was performing a discretionary task, the court ruled that she is likewise entitled to immunity from suit in her individual capacity. The state’s doctrine of qualified official immunity shields public officers and employees from liability for the negligent performance of discretionary acts if done in good faith and within the scope of their authority. Here, the manager had discretion in determining how or whether to pursue eviction for lease infractions.
The residential lease agreement contains multiple provisions in which tenants are advised that certain actions—such as disorderly, disruptive, or abusive conduct and criminal activity threatening others’ health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment—"may result in termination” or “shall be cause for termination.” While the lease language provides instances that “shall be cause” for eviction or termination, there is no language that requires eviction.
- Bryant v. Louisville Metro Housing Authority, June 2017