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RIVERA v. READING HOUS. AUTH.

January 25, 1993

CARMEN RIVERA, on behalf of herself and her minor child, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE READING HOUSING AUTHORITY and DANIEL F. LUCKEY, in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Reading Housing Authority, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BY THE COURT; FRANKLIN S. VAN ANTWERPEN

 VAN ANTWERPEN, J.

 January 25, 1993

 I. INTRODUCTION

 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 *fn1" : (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 .

 III. BACKGROUND

 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. *fn2" 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. *fn3" 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. *fn4"

 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 ...


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