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Lachcik v. Maricopa County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 16, 2017

Shelly M Lachcik, et al., Plaintiffs,
Maricopa County Board of Commissioners, et al., Defendants.


          David G. Campbell United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Shelly Lachcik and Katherine Fox filed a complaint against Defendants Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (“MCBS”), Housing Authority of Maricopa County (“HAMC”), Gloria Munoz, Jenese Bojorquez, Marifel Saldana, Keith Quin, and Brad Carr (collectively, “Defendants”). Doc. 54. Plaintiffs seek declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief for alleged violations of the Constitution and federal law. Id. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. The motion is fully briefed (Docs. 87, 89, 91), and no party has requested oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

         I. Background.

         Defendant HAMC is a public housing authority created under state law and responsible for administering the Housing Choice Voucher Program in Maricopa County. Doc. 87 at 2. This federal program, commonly referred to as the Section 8 program, offers housing subsidies to low-income families who meet certain eligibility requirements and comply with specified obligations. 24 C.F.R. § 982. Defendant MCBS, the five-member governing board for Maricopa County, is charged with overseeing HAMC. Doc. 87 at 2; Doc. 1 at 4. Defendants Gloria Munoz, Jenese Bojorquez, Keith Quin, and Marifel Saldana are employees of HAMC. Doc. 87 at 2. Defendant Munoz is the Executive Director, Defendant Bojorquez the supervisor of the Section 8 program, Defendant Quin a housing specialist, Defendant Saldana a customer service specialist, and Defendant Carr a volunteer hearing officer. Id.

         Plaintiff Lachick is a former recipient of Section 8 housing assistance. Id.; Doc. 1 at 4. Plaintiff Fox is Lachick's mother. Id. In December 2012, Fox temporarily moved into Lachick's home. Doc. 88, ¶ 2; Doc. 90 at 1. In early 2013, Plaintiffs submitted a change report form to HAMC indicating this move. Doc. 88, ¶ 3; Doc. 90 at 1. Fox earned income in 2013 which she disclosed on her 2013 tax return. Doc. 88, ¶¶ 4-5; Doc. 90 at 1. Plaintiffs concede that they were aware of their duty under the Section 8 program to disclose this income to HAMC. Doc. 88, ¶ 7; Doc. 90 at 1. Plaintiffs did not disclose Fox's income (Doc. 88, ¶ 8; Doc. 90 at 1-2), and Lachick alleges that she had no personal knowledge of Fox's income at the time. Doc. 90 at 2. Plaintiffs submitted a 2014 recertification packet in late 2013. Doc. 88-1 at 23. In response, Defendants sent a letter to Plaintiffs on October 25, 2014, requesting a copy of Fox's 2013 tax return and 2014 self-employment worksheet. Id. at 42. Plaintiffs submitted these additional documents, although there is some dispute as to whether they were submitted immediately after the October 2014 request or only after a November 2014 follow-up request from Defendants. Id. at 23; Doc. 90 at 1-2.

         Following receipt of these documents, Defendants recalculated the benefits to which Plaintiffs were entitled under the Section 8 program and sent a Notification of Debt and Proposed Termination to Plaintiffs dated May 8, 2015. Doc. 88, ¶ 11; Doc. 88-1 at 49. The notification provided: “You failed to report timely, and properly, Kathy Fox's self-employment income for 2013. Failure to report all household income causes the federal government to pay too much for rental subsidy and is considered fraud. One of your obligations as a participant on the Housing Choice Voucher Program is to report changes in household income in a timely manner.” Doc 88-1 at 49. The notification informed Plaintiffs that they were required to pay the balance of $1, 718 by June 8, 2015 or their housing assistance would be terminated. Id. It also informed Plaintiffs of their right to reply to the notification, to examine documents in the possession of HAMC directly related to the notification, and to have an informal hearing on the matter. Id. Plaintiffs do not dispute that they received this notification, but allege that the debt calculation was inaccurate and that the notification did not disclose to whom the debt belonged or that Plaintiffs had violated a family obligation under the Section 8 program. Doc. 90 at 2.

         On May 18, 2015 Plaintiffs requested an informal hearing. Defendants mailed Plaintiffs a letter on May, 282016, informing them that the hearing was scheduled for June 25, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. and providing them with information about hearing policies. Doc. 88, ¶ 14; Doc. 88-1 at 54; Doc. 90 at 1. The letter said: “You have the right to view any documents or evidence in the possession of [HAMC] upon which the proposed action is based at your own expense. Request for such documents or evidence must be received no later than one business day prior to the hearing date and the request must be submitted in writing.” Doc. 88-1 at 54. Plaintiffs assert that they “requested the documents relevant to the hearing prior to the end of the business day on June 24th, 2015[, ]” in compliance with the procedures. Doc. 90 at 5.[1]

         Both Plaintiffs appeared and gave testimony at the informal hearing on June 25. Doc. 88, ¶ 20; Doc. 90 at 1. On July 4, 2015, Defendant Carr - the hearing officer - issued a written decision upholding the termination of Plaintiffs' housing assistance. Doc. 88, ¶ 21; Doc. 88-1 at 70-72; Doc. 90 at 1. Plaintiffs do not dispute that “[t]he documentary evidence relied upon by the hearing officer consisted of documents that had been sent to Plaintiffs before the hearing date, signed by Plaintiffs before the hearing date, or submitted by Plaintiffs before the hearing date.” Doc. 88, ¶ 23; Doc. 90 at 1. Plaintiffs' benefits were terminated after Defendant Carr's decision. Doc. 87 at 4.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is also appropriate 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, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. Analysis.

         Plaintiffs bring several claims alleging violations of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (specifically 42 U.S.C. 1437f) and related regulations. Doc. 54 at 3-4. Pro se Plaintiffs' summary judgment briefing is sparse and confusing (Docs. 89, 90), but the Court has examined it carefully, along with Plaintiffs' third amended complaint (Doc. 54), in attempting to make out their arguments. Plaintiffs' complaint also confuses the legal bases of their claims, but it appears that the majority of the claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 54 at 4-11. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must both (1) allege the deprivation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or statutory law, and (2) allege that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Although Plaintiffs clearly feel aggrieved for having lost their Section 8 housing subsidy, the Court concludes that they have failed to present evidence of, or create a triable issue of fact on, any violation of their constitutional or statutory rights. They identify various defects in Defendants' actions, such as a denial of last-minute access to HAMC's file, erroneous debt calculations, and the fact that one of them allegedly was excluded from the hearing room for a short period, but they have identified no violations that rise to the level of a denial of due process. Nor have they identified violations of any actionable statutory rights. They assert that Defendants violated some regulations, but failed to identify any cause of action for those violations.[2]

         A. Due Process Violations.

         Plaintiffs contend that they were not given “adequate notice as to the grounds for termination, with enough specificity so that [they could] prepare a defense.” Doc. 54 at 5. Plaintiffs also contend that they were denied the opportunity to review Defendants' file related to their case. Id. at 7. Additionally, Plaintiffs argue that Plaintiff Fox was refused access to the hearing room, resulting in her inability to cross-examine witnesses whose testimony was relied on by Defendant Carr. Id. at 8. Finally, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant Carr failed ...

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