OPINION AND ORDER
VAN ANTWERPEN, J.
January 25, 1993
On December 23, 1991, plaintiffs filed this action challenging a policy of the Reading Housing Authority ("RHA") that requires applicants for public housing under the age of eighteen (18) to provide a judicial decree of emancipation as a condition of admission. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and defendants' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the alternative, Motion to Dismiss, are now before the court.
Plaintiff challenges RHA's policy of requiring a judicial decree on three grounds
: (A) as contravening the purpose of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937; (B) as violating the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") regulations prohibiting categorical limitations in tenant selection criteria (24 C.F.R. §§ 960.204(c)(1), 960.205(a)); and (C) as violating the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it creates an irrebuttable presumption. Plaintiff seeks injunctive and monetary relief for these violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Our jurisdiction is based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
After reviewing the statutory scheme, the regulations and the administrative guidelines developed by HUD, we determine that RHA's judicial decree requirement for minor applicants does not violate the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, its implementing regulations or the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and, hence, we grant defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
The court shall render summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248, 106 S. Ct. at 2510 . All inferences must be drawn and all doubts resolved in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 994, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962); Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010, 106 S. Ct. 537, 88 L. Ed. 2d 467 (1985).
On motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying for the court those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must respond with facts of record that contradict the facts identified by the movant and may not rest on mere denials. Id. at 321 n.3, 106 S. Ct. at 2552 n.3 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)); see First Nat'l Bank of Pennsylvania v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 824 F.2d 277, 282 (3d Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S. Ct. at 2510-11 .
A. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The complaint was filed in this action on December 23, 1991 by three named plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and a proposed class, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. On April 3, 1992, plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification. We denied that motion by order dated April 27, 1992 with an accompanying memorandum. Plaintiffs' counsel thereafter filed stipulations for voluntary dismissal, without prejudice, of the claims of two of the three original named plaintiffs because their whereabouts were unknown.
Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the RHA to change its policy of requiring minor applicants for public housing to provide a judicial decree of emancipation before being considered eligible for public housing, and to provide public housing and monetary compensation to plaintiff, who was denied admission to public housing as a result of her failure to seek an emancipation decree under this requirement.
Following the completion of discovery, the parties determined that the facts necessary to resolve plaintiff Rivera's claims were not in dispute, and the parties agreed to submit this action to the court on cross-motions for summary judgment.
B. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The undisputed and stipulated facts necessary to determine plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are as follows.
Defendant RHA is a Pennsylvania public housing authority created in or around 1939 pursuant to Pennsylvania's Housing Authorities Law. 35 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. §§ 1541 et seq. (1977). Through annual contributions contracts with the Secretary of HUD, RHA is authorized to engage or assist in the development, administration or operation of low income housing on a local level, in accordance with the United States Housing Act of 1937, as amended. 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et seq.. RHA operates eight low income housing projects and also assists lower income individuals in obtaining affordable housing with private landlords through the Section 8 program of the Housing Act.
The annual contributions contract between the Secretary of HUD and RHA requires RHA to follow the regulations promulgated by HUD under the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 and also to comply with terms of the HUD Public Housing Occupancy Handbook ("Handbook"). In accordance with public housing regulations contained in the Code of Federal Regulations and the directives issued by HUD in its Handbook, RHA developed a tenant "Admissions and Occupancy Policy", which governs eligibility for admission to low-income housing projects owned and operated by RHA.
In March, 1991, RHA revised its Admissions and Occupancy Policy and submitted it to HUD for review and approval. By letter dated July 2, 1991, HUD approved the revised Admissions Policy without change. The revised policy was also approved by resolution of the RHA Board of Commissioners and became effective on July 23, 1991. The revised RHA policy contains an express requirement that minor applicants (i.e., applicants under eighteen years of age) obtain a judicial decree of emancipation in order to be eligible to rent RHA-administered public housing.
RHA has not taken steps beyond this to establish its own standard or procedure for determining whether a minor applicant is sufficiently able to sign a lease, and abide by its terms.
The RHA's purposes for requiring a judicial decree of emancipation are to: (a) ensure that a lease agreement entered into by the RHA with a minor is enforceable by the RHA; (b) establish that the minor applicant is in need of public housing; and (c) establish the minor's capacity to comply with the terms of a lease and ability to live independently. Stipulation of Facts, P2. The parties also agree upon the following additional facts.
Plaintiff Carmen Rivera was born in Puerto Rico on January 17, 1975. Her parents are separated, and she lived with and was raised by her paternal grandparents, Louis Rivera and Ramonita Perez.
Ms. Rivera's father has mental health problems and has been in and out of prison and mental institutions throughout her life. Her father lived with Ms. Rivera and her grandparents in Puerto Rico between institutionalizations. Ms. Rivera's father was incarcerated for about a year at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill and was then transferred to a mental hospital, where he presently resides. Ms. Rivera lived with her mother only for a few months following her birth and has seen her mother only two or three times since then. She last saw her mother about five years ago. The last Ms. Rivera heard about her mother was that she was incarcerated in Florida.
Ms. Rivera attended kindergarten through ninth grade in Puerto Rico. She moved from Puerto Rico with her grandparents to Allentown, Pennsylvania when she was fifteen years old. Ms. Rivera lived with her grandparents in Allentown for about five months. She met David Gonzalez, who is presently twenty-three years old, when she was fifteen and decided to live with him about three months after they met. Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez lived together for about one year in an apartment in Allentown.
In February, 1991, Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzales moved along with Ms. Rivera's grandparents to Reading, Pennsylvania. Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez lived with Ms. Rivera's grandparents in a two bedroom apartment at 722 North Second Street in Reading. While living with her grandparents on Second Street, Ms. Rivera's clothes and living expenses were paid for by her grandfather, who also paid Mr. Gonzalez' living expenses. Neither Ms. Rivera nor Mr. Gonzalez contributed to the household. About a month after moving to Reading, Ms. Rivera's great-aunt arrived from Puerto Rico to live with them.
In April, 1991, Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez moved out of the apartment at 722 North Second Street. Ms. Rivera was pregnant with her first child at that time, and she and Mr. Gonzalez wanted some privacy and a place of their own. Before leaving her grandparents' apartment, Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez applied for public assistance. They were found eligible for a cash assistance grant in the amount of $ 316 per month.
Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez moved from her grandparents' apartment into their own one-bedroom apartment at 637 North Ninth Street in Reading. Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez entered into a written lease under which they were required to pay $ 260 per month in rent for the apartment, plus utilities. The apartment was clean but crowded and there were mice. In June, 1991, Mr. Gonzalez got a job as a cook at McDonald's. His present biweekly earnings are between $ 200 - $ 280. Ms. Rivera remained eligible for $ 205 per month in cash assistance payments. In addition, Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez receive $ 143 per month in food stamps. Ms. Rivera also receives medical assistance from Medicaid for herself and her daughter, and both participate in the Women's, Infants' and Children's ("WIC") Nutrition program, 62 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. §§ 2951 et seq. (1986), which provides cereal, milk and juice for mother and child.
On May 21, 1991, prior to the July effective date of the revised RHA Admissions Policy but after RHA's reaffirmation of its existing written admissions policy, Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez filed a written application for public housing with the Reading Housing Authority. As is the case with all minor applicants for public housing through the RHA, Ms. Rivera was placed on a waiting list pending the RHA's receipt of a judicial decree of emancipation. On August 9, 1991, Ms. Rivera received a letter from the RHA stating that she would have to obtain a judicial decree of emancipation in order for her and Mr. Gonzalez to be admitted to public housing. Despite the August 9, 1991 letter, Ms. Rivera did not seek or submit an emancipation decree, nor did she contact the RHA concerning her eligibility for housing. Instead, on August 16, 1991, Ms. Rivera's attorney wrote to the RHA on Ms. Rivera's behalf objecting to the RHA's requirement that she obtain a judicial decree of emancipation and explaining that, under Pennsylvania law, minors may enter into enforceable contracts for "necessaries."
Thereafter, on September 9, 1991, the RHA sent Ms. Rivera a Notification of Ineligibility, stating that her application for admission to public housing was denied based upon her failure to comply with the RHA's policy concerning applicants under the age of eighteen years.
On November 24, 1991, Ms. Rivera gave birth to a baby girl, Vanessa Gonzalez. Ms. Rivera understood that their lease agreement for the apartment at 637 North Ninth Street did not permit children. Ms. Rivera, however, got permission from the landlady to stay in the apartment after the baby was born.
Ms. Rivera, Mr. Gonzalez, and their daughter, Vanessa, continued to reside at 637 North Ninth Street until February, 1992, when they moved to a larger one-bedroom apartment in a building, owned by a friend of Ms. Rivera's grandfather, at 142 North Eighth Street in Reading. Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez have an oral lease agreement for this apartment, under which they are required to pay $ 400 per month in rent, including utilities.
Although the apartment is in good condition, Ms. Rivera discovered rats in the apartment. She and Mr. Gonzalez notified the landlord of this problem and he gave them rat traps. They have caught two or three rats in the apartment.
Ms. Rivera and Mr. Gonzalez have supported themselves and their daughter on Mr. Gonzalez' earnings from McDonald's and the monthly cash assistance grant, food stamps and medical assistance which Ms. Rivera receives. Ms. Rivera has received only limited help from her grandparents since she and Mr. Gonzalez moved out of their apartment in April, 1991. Periodically, when Ms. Rivera has run short of cash, her grandfather has taken her to the store to buy necessities, such as Pampers and other items for the baby. On each such occasion, she and Mr. Gonzalez repaid Ms. Rivera's grandfather as soon as they were able to do so. Ms. Rivera, who was expecting her second child this past November, sees her grandparents every day.
The United States Housing Act of 1937 ("Housing Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437 et seq. was enacted "to assist the several States and their political subdivisions to remedy the unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions and the acute shortage of decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings for families of lower income." 42 U.S.C. § 1437. The Housing Act authorizes the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide low interest loans, grants and other assistance for the construction and operation of housing for families with low incomes. 42 U.S.C. § 1437b. In order to accomplish the stated purpose of the Housing Act, Congress specifically recognized the need to vest the maximum amount of power and responsibility with the local public housing authorities in order to promote efficient management of the housing programs. Vandermark v. Housing Auth. of York, 663 F.2d 436, 439 (3d Cir. 1981). This was expressly stated under the section of the Housing Act captioned "Declaration of Policy," which states, in pertinent part, that:
it is the policy of the United States ... to vest in local public housing agencies the maximum amount of responsibility in the administration of their housing programs.
42 U.S.C. § 1437.
In addition, the Housing Act encourages the development of sound and efficient management programs and practices to assure rental collection. The Housing Act states, in pertinent part, that:
every contract for annual contributions shall provide that ... the public housing agency shall comply with such procedures and requirements as the Secretary may prescribe to assure that sound management practices will be followed in the operation of the project, including requirements pertaining to ... the establishment of satisfactory procedures designed to assure the prompt payment and collection of rents....
42 U.S.C. § 1437d(c)(4)(B).
Consistent with the Housing Act's declaration of policy to vest the maximum amount of power and responsibility with the local public housing authorities in order to promote efficient management, HUD, through its regulations directs each public housing authority to:
adopt and implement policies and procedures embodying standards and criteria for tenant selection which take into consideration the needs of individual families for public housing and the statutory purpose in developing and operating socially and financially sound public housing projects.