PHA Wrongfully Terminated Resident from Voucher Program
Facts: In August 2009, a resident who has participated in the voucher program since 1997 transferred to a voucher program administered by a different PHA. Before her transfer, she signed a “Statement of Family Obligations” acknowledging that she understood the program’s requirements, which included complying with interim and annual reporting requirements, reporting any changes in her source of income within 10 days of the change, and reporting any changes in household composition within 10 days of the change.
In March 2012, the resident’s mother, who was receiving hospice care, moved into her unit. It was unclear how long her mother would reside with her, and she didn’t seek prior approval for the change in family composition, or report the change to the PHA. Her mother died on March 29, 2012, 10 days after she moved into the unit.
After her mother’s death, the resident and her children temporarily stayed at her mother’s former apartment to conclude her mother’s affairs. The resident didn’t retrieve her mail until she returned home on April 18, 2012.
When she returned home, she discovered that she had a certified letter from the PHA at the post office. The post office had attempted to deliver the letter on April 12, 2012, and again on April 16, 2012. She retrieved the letter on April 19, 2012. The letter, dated April 9, 2012, informed the resident that her annual recertification hearing was scheduled for April 17, 2012, at 10 a.m. The letter stated that the appointment could be rescheduled within three days from the date of delivery of the letter, that “[f]ailure to show for [the] scheduled appointment or notification to change [the] scheduled appointment will be grounds for immediate termination of [the] lease,” and that the letter would be the only notification of the appointment.
The resident went to the PHA’s office on April 19, 2012, but her caseworker couldn’t meet with her until the next day. She returned to the office on April 20, 2012, and explained to her caseworker that she missed the April 17, 2012, recertification hearing because she didn’t receive the notification letter before that date.
On April 24, 2012, the resident was notified that her participation in the voucher program would be terminated on May 31, 2012, for her failure to attend her scheduled recertification hearing and for other unspecified program violations. The termination notice informed her that she had the right to appeal the decision by requesting an informal hearing, in writing, within 10 days of the date of the letter, and she did so.
The hearing was conducted on May 15, 2012, and a decision letter was issued informing her that the termination of her participation in the voucher program was being upheld. The decision letter discussed the facts surrounding her failure to attend her recertification hearing and stated that she had not demonstrated that she didn’t attend the appointment due to circumstances that were beyond her control. The recertification appointment was scheduled three weeks after her mother passed away, which, according to the letter, was ample time for her to receive mail and contact the office to discuss the possibility of rescheduling.
The resident then sued, claiming that the PHA’s decision to terminate her participation in the voucher program due to her failure to attend her recertification hearing was arbitrary and capricious because it didn’t account for all of the circumstances.
Ruling: A Louisiana district court ruled in the resident’s favor.
Reasoning: In this case, the court ruled that the decision to terminate the resident’s participation in the voucher program was arbitrary and capricious. The court noted that the hearing officer failed to consider that the resident contacted the PHA the day she received the letter, and returned to office the next day to consult with her caseworker regarding her missing the scheduled recertification hearing appointment. She complied with the requirement of contacting the PHA within three days of the receipt of the letter. Further, the hearing officer failed to consider that the PHA didn’t verify when she actually received the notification letter until the day of the informal hearing. Given the circumstances surrounding the death of the resident’s mother, and her immediate response upon receipt of the letter, the court ruled that the PHA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in terminating her participation in the voucher program.
- Cooley v. Housing Authority of the City of Slidell, July 2013