Resident Challenges PHA's Action to Overturn Hearing Officer's Decision
Facts: A resident is a participant in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. One day she got involved in a physical altercation with two other women. According to the resident, the other females were unknown to her, intoxicated, and physically attacked her first. She said she only responded in kind by physically defending herself.
Shortly after, the resident learned that the police were looking for her, so she turned herself in to the authorities. She was subsequently arrested and charged with felony assault. She couldn't make the modest bail and was incarcerated from Aug. 26, 2011, through Oct. 13, 2011, during which time her mother cared for her three young children. But by Oct. 13, 2011, her mother could no longer care for her children. On that date, the resident asserts that because of her incarcerated circumstances, and the need to take care of her three children, she was compelled to plead guilty to the felony assault charge. On that same date, the resident was sentenced to probation for one year, with the understanding that after one year, the charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor.
In the interim, the PHA sent a notice to her, stating that she was to be terminated from the Section 8 program on account of her arrest. She requested an informal hearing, and the hearing officer determined that she could continue to receive her Section 8 benefits. The PHA then sent notice that it wasn't bound by the hearing officer's decision and was going to proceed to terminate her Section 8 benefits. It said that the officer didn't properly apply the federal, state, and local laws to participants who engage in violent criminal activity.
The resident sued and asked the court for a temporary restraining order.
Ruling: A New York district court extended her temporary restraining order against the PHA to enable her lawyers to file the lawsuit in state court.
Reasoning: The court found that this case should be brought as an Article 78 proceeding under New York State law in state court. Having received a final determination from the PHA, the resident is allowed initiate an Article 78 proceeding in New York Supreme Court to challenge the PHA's determination. An Article 78 proceeding permits a petitioner to submit affidavits and other written evidence, and where a material issue of fact is raised, have a trial of the disputed issue, including constitutional claims. Article 78 “provides the mechanism for challenging a specific decision of a state administrative agency.”
According to the court, the resident's claim that the PHA may have incorrectly determined that the hearing officer's decision was contrary to HUD regulations, or federal, state, or local law, is precisely the type of error addressed in an Article 78 proceeding.
Also, due to the drastic nature of the actions sought by the PHA and the fact that the resident is a mother of three small children and, apparently, has no funds, the court decided to extend the temporary restraining order. This extension enables the resident's lawyers to start an Article 78 proceeding in New York State court.
Rios v. Town of Huntington Housing Authority, April 2012