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BOOKER T. JOE v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (03/30/88)

decided: March 30, 1988.

BOOKER T. JOE, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA HOUSING FINANCE AGENCY, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, in the case of Booker T. Joe, SS No. 204-38-7707, dated December 11, 1985.

COUNSEL

Irv Ackelsberg, for petitioner.

Trent Hargrove, with him, Jolynn M. Stoy, for respondent.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Colins. Concurring Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr. Judge Barry joins in this concurring opinion.

Author: Colins

[ 115 Pa. Commw. Page 50]

Booker T. Joe, homeowner and mortgagor (petitioner), appeals an order of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (Agency) which denied his application for emergency mortgage assistance. We must determine the novel question of whether certain financial consequences of a mortgagor's alcoholism amount to "financial hardship due to circumstances beyond the mortgagor's control" so as to bring him within the purview of Section 404-C of the Homeowner's Emergency Assistance Act (Act 91 or Act).*fn1

During 1982, petitioner defaulted on his mortgage payments because, in his words, he "drank up the mortgage money." Throughout his mortgage delinquency and until his application for mortgage assistance, petitioner was gainfully employed by the City of Philadelphia.*fn2 On April 25, 1985, the Agency denied petitioner's application

[ 115 Pa. Commw. Page 51]

    for assistance based upon its determination that petitioner had sufficient income to pay his mortgage such that he was not suffering financial hardship due to circumstances beyond his control. Upon administrative appeal and following a hearing, a Hearing Examiner affirmed the Agency's determination. Noting petitioner's alcoholism*fn3 and the expert testimony proffered by petitioner in an attempt to elucidate same, the Hearing Examiner found that petitioner had not suffered unemployment or loss of income as a result of economic factors or health problems and that he, in fact, had continued to hold down his job despite his active alcoholism. The Hearing Examiner specifically limited the application of Act 91 to those mortgagors suffering a "curtailment of income" arising from unemployment or underemployment, special marital circumstances or unique medical circumstances, any of which must be beyond the mortgagor's control. Finally, the Hearing Examiner noted petitioner's maintenance of his income and concluded that the Commonwealth is not "responsible for an individual's mismanagement or misuse of his own available funds."

Upon appeal to this Court, petitioner contends that the Agency applied an overly-restrictive eligibility standard in evaluating his application for assistance and erred in concluding that his financial distress resulted from circumstances within his control. In response to an Order of this Court, dated September 29, 1987,*fn4 petitioner

[ 115 Pa. Commw. Page 52]

    has elaborated upon his second contention and now suggests that certain decisions of this and other courts support the view that alcoholism is an illness necessarily beyond the individual's control.

Preliminarily, we note that our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether constitutional rights were violated, an error of law was committed or whether the Agency's findings of fact are not supported by substantial evidence. Mull v. Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, 108 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 459, 529 A.2d 1185 (1987). Moreover, the Agency's interpretation of the Act is ...


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