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Yarbrough v. Decatur Housing Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

March 7, 2017

SHEENA YARBROUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
DECATUR HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Sheena Yarbrough brings this action against Decatur Housing Authority (“DHA”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [1] alleging violations of her federally protected rights under Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. § 1437 (“Section 8”) and various amendments to the United States Constitution. Doc. 1 at 3. The court has for consideration DHA's motion for summary judgment, doc. 30, which is fully briefed, docs. 31; 34; 35, and Yarbrough's motion for summary judgment, doc. 40, which raises the same arguments she raised in her opposition to DHA's own motion. For the reasons stated below, DHA's motion is due to be granted and Yarbrough's motion is due to be denied.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” To support a summary judgment motion, the parties must cite to “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Moreover, “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Furthermore, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         “The standards governing cross-motions for summary judgment are the same, although the court must construe the motions independently, viewing the evidence presented by each moving party in the light most favorable to the non-movant.” Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 39 F.Supp.3d 1392, 1404 (S.D. Fla. 2014) (citing Shazor v. Professional Transit Management, Ltd., 744 F.3d 948 (6th Cir. 2014)); see also U.S. v. Oakley, 744 F.2d 1553, 1555 (11th Cir. 1984) (applying the Rule 56 summary judgment standard where both parties moved for summary judgment). However, “cross-motions for summary judgment will not, in themselves, warrant the court in granting summary judgment unless one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not genuinely disputed.” Bricklayers, Masons & Plasterers Int'l Union v. Stuart Plastering Co., 512 F.2d 1017, 1023 (5th Cir. 1975). Nonetheless, “[c]ross motions for summary judgment may be probative of the nonexistence of a factual dispute when . . . they demonstrate a basic agreement concerning what legal theories and material facts are dispositive.” Id. “Indeed, when both parties proceed on the same legal theory and rely on the same material facts the court is signaled that the case is ripe for summary judgment.” Shook v. U.S., 713 F.2d 662, 665 (11th Cir. 1983). That is precisely the case here, as the parties appear to be in agreement that the material facts are undisputed and that certain narrow legal issues - namely, the legal sufficiency of the indictments - are dispositive of the claims joined herein.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Yarbrough was a participant in the Section 8 Housing Assistance program provided through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Docs. 1 at 1; 17-1 at 2-3. The Section 8 Voucher Program provides low income families assistance with rental payments and is administered by public housing authorities (“PHAs”), such as DHA. Id. On April 6, 2011, Yarbrough signed a copy of Obligations of the Participating Family from HUD, which provided, in part, that “members of the family may not engage in drug-related criminal activity.” Doc. 32-7 at 2-3. As of April 4, 2013, the DHA “must terminate program assistance for a participant . . . [i]f any member of the family commits drug-related . . . criminal activity in violation of Section 2.3 of this Administrative Plan and 24 CFR 982.551.” Doc. 17-3 at 2-3.

         In September 2012, through a newspaper article, DHA learned that Yarbrough was arrested on charges of drug-related criminal activity. Doc. 20-2 at 38:00-41:00. As a result, DHA notified Yarbrough that it intended to terminate her program assistance. Id. In response, Yarbrough denied any involvement in unlawful drug activity and requested a hearing. Id. At the hearing, the hearing officer found that Yarbrough had carried out unlawful drug-related activity and would have to move from her home. Id. However, based on legal advice, DHA decided that Yarbrough could keep her voucher and that it would postpone any decision to terminate her housing assistance subsidies “until a court date or decision was rendered.” Id. at 10:00-10:30; 38:00-41:00.

         On April 11, 2013, based on the September 2012 arrest, a grand jury at the Limestone County Circuit Court of Alabama indicted Yarbrough on two counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance for selling “a quantity of Lortab” and “a quantity of Xanax” to an undercover police officer. Docs. 17-5 at 2-5. The last substantive update from Yarbrough's case stated that “[t]he state moves to dismiss the case upon payment of court costs and the Defendant occurs [sic]. It is the order of the court that this case will be dismissed upon payment of court costs.” Docs. 20-2 at 25:21-29:20; 34-1 at 7. The state court has since continued the case to allow Yarbrough to pay court fees and the case is still pending. Id.

         On October 8, 2015, DHA sent Yarbrough a new notice, advising her that it intended to terminate her participation in the Section 8 program on November 30, 2015, due to violations of Housing Choice Voucher #4: Obligations of the Family. Allegedly, in addition to her arrest and subsequent indictment for drug-related activity, Yarbrough failed to (1) notify DHA of a change in family income and composition in January 2015; (2) report her household income from 2011 through 2013; and (3) make required payments to DHA since February 2015. Docs. 1 at 2; 1-1 at 2. At Yarbrough's request, DHA held a hearing. Doc. 1-1 at 2. Thereafter, the hearing officer issued a decision finding that DHA failed to establish violations on all counts except for the accusation that Yarbrough had “violated her agreement with the Authority and her lease by engaging in drug-related criminal activity.” Doc. 1-1 at 4, 6-7. As a result, the hearing officer upheld DHA's decision to terminate Yarbrough's participation in the program. Id. at 6.

         In his written decision, the hearing officer explained that DHA sufficiently established that Yarbrough had engaged in drug-related criminal activity by presenting evidence of Yarbrough's arrest and subsequent indictment for two felony counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. Doc. 1-1 at 3. The hearing officer further noted that although Yarbrough presented “credible evidence that the cases will be dismissed on payment of court costs, ” id. at 4; doc. 34-1 at 7, the fact that the charges remain pending and that the indictments were issued by “a duly impaneled grand jury” is sufficient proof that “more likely than not, i.e., by a preponderance of the evidence, [that] Ms. Yarbrough engaged in drug related criminal activity in violation of the terms of her agreement with the Authority.” Doc. 32-2 at 3-4. The hearing officer also considered Yarbrough's assertion that she and DHA had reached an agreement precluding DHA from acting on the termination of benefits until after the court issued a decision on the criminal cases. Id. at 4. To support her contention, Yarbrough relied on an internal note produced by DHA, which indicated that DHA's legal counsel had advised it to continue paying Yarbrough's subsidy “until a court decision is rendered.” Id.; doc. 20-2 at 10:00-10:30; 38:00-41:00. However, the hearing officer ultimately found that “[t]his note falls woefully short of an agreement to withhold termination action pending final adjudication of the criminal action.” Doc. 32-2 at 3-4. As such, the hearing officer determined that Yarbrough had violated her agreement due to her involvement in drug-related criminal activity and upheld DHA's termination of Yarbrough's Section 8 housing benefits. Id. at 7. Following the hearing, DHA informed Yarbrough that her benefits would cease on December 31, 2015. Docs. 1-2 at 3; 6 at 3.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Yarbrough's complaint pleads two counts - (1) alleged violations of HUD regulations and requirements by issuing a “decision [that] was based completely on hearsay evidence without legal or factual support” and by failing to “provide a hearing with an impartial hearing officer, ”[2] doc. 1 at 2; and (2) alleged denial of due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, id. at 3. More specifically, Yarbrough contends that DHA violated her rights under the Constitution when it terminated her housing assistance payments without providing her due process by failing to provide her with adequate notice, a meaningful opportunity to be heard, and by basing the decision to terminate solely on unreliable hearsay evidence.[3] Doc. 1 at 2-3. The court addresses these contentions below, and, for the reasons that follow, finds that Yarbrough has failed to meet her burden, that her motion for summary judgment is due to be denied, and DHA's motion is due to be granted.

         A. DHA Provided ...


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