Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Faylor v. Szupper

April 15, 2009

CHERYL FAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL SZUPPER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS RELOCATION SPECIALIST UNITED STATES DEPT. OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD); JOHN TOLBERT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS FIELD OFFICE DIRECTOR, HUD; WESTMORELAND COUNTY, PA., HOMES BUILD HOPE, A SERVICE OF ADELPHOI, USA; WEM HOUSING, L.P., CHAD RUFFNER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WEM HOUSING L.P. AND IN OFFICIAL CAPACITY AT HOMES BUILD HOPE; PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITY COORDINATORS, INC., AND CARLOTTA PAIGE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AT PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITY COORDINATORS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert C. Mitchell United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge

Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss the amended complaint filed by defendants Westmoreland County, PA and its Commissioners, Thomas Bayla and Thomas Ceraso, as well as a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment submitted by defendants Michael Szupper and John Tolbert. For reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss filed by Westmoreland County, PA, Thomas Bayla and Thomas Ceraso (Document No. 67) will be granted as to all claims except for the plaintiff's procedural due process claim in Count II against Westmoreland County, and the motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by defendants Szupper and Tolbert (Document No. 69), treated as a motion to dismiss, will be granted as to all claims except for the procedural due process claim against them in their individual capacities in Count II.

The plaintiff, Cheryl Faylor, proceeding pro se, has filed an amended civil rights complaint arising from her relocation to other housing pursuant to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 ("URA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4601, et seq.*fn1 The plaintiff complains that in the course of her relocation to other housing, the defendants, individually and in conspiracy, violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and are liable for breach of contract/unjust enrichment and negligence. The Court's federal question and supplemental jurisdiction are invoked.

Named as defendants in the amended complaint are Michael Szupper, individually and as Relocation Specialist for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), John Tolbert, individually and as Field Office Director of HUD (collectively, the "Federal defendants"), Westmoreland County, PA, and its Commissioners Thomas Bayla and Thomas Ceraso, individually and in their official capacities as County Commissioners for Westmoreland County, PA (collectively, the "County defendants"), Homes Build Hope ("HBH"), WEM Housing L.P., Chad Ruffner, individually and as Executive Director of WEM Housing and in his official capacity at HBH, Professional Community Coordinators, Inc. ("PCC"), and Carlotta Paige, individually and in her official capacity at PCC. The Federal defendants and County defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint, while the other named defendants have filed answers to it.

In her amended complaint, the plaintiff alleges that she was a resident at 411 South 6th Street in Jeannette, PA for over five years; that she lived in a townhouse unit that was one of several units targeted for demolition to make way for a renovation project called the Jeannette 6th Street Project (the "Project"); and that the Project utilized federal funding through HUD's HOME Investment Partnership Program.*fn2

In 2006 and 2007, HUD and Westmoreland County (the "County") entered into Agreements pursuant to the HOME Investment Partnerships Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12701, et seq., whereby HUD agreed to make funds available in exchange for the County's agreement to develop affordable housing. The County disbursed HUD funds for the Project to HBH, which created WEM Housing to act as the general contractor on the Project. As general contractor, WEM Housing purchased the townhouse units on South 6th Street and hired PCC and Carlotta Paige to assist in relocating residents affected by the Project.

The plaintiff contends that on or about February 21, 2007, WEM Housing signed a purchase agreement with the owner of the building where she resided which was the "initiation of negotiations", at which time the agency was to notify her in writing of her eligibility for relocation assistance, but it failed to do so. In a letter dated March 2, 2007, HBH informed the plaintiff that her family may be displaced by the Project, and it provided her with information as to her potential rights as a displaced person under the URA.*fn3

On or about April 2, 2007, employees from PCC met with the plaintiff to obtain information from her which would be used to complete her relocation assistance. The plaintiff avers, however, that she received no further information or contact from HBH or PCC until August 2007, by which time her townhouse unit and other units in the building had fallen into disrepair. For instance, the plaintiff asserts that rotting trash and discarded mattresses accumulated in front of the building, grass and weeds grew taller than four feet high, abandoned units were not cleaned, and cockroaches, fleas and other vermin were present on the premises.

The plaintiff contends that on September 12, 2007, she saw Carlotta Paige and complained about her living conditions and inquired about relocation efforts, and Paige told her they were working on it; that on or about September 21, 2007, she received a letter from Chad Ruffner, informing her that she was eligible for relocation assistance and needed to relocate to a different residence upon 90 days notice, but the letter did not advise her how much rental assistance she would receive; and that on September 24, 2007, she wrote to Ruffner complaining about the vermin problem, after which HBH fumigated the vacant, uncleaned unit next to hers, and Ruffner inspected her premises and said he would talk to Carlotta Paige about it.

The plaintiff asserts that in October 2007, she witnessed two house fires within a four-day period just a block from her residence, and fearing increased vandalism from abandoned housing in the area, she informed HBH and HUD that she intended to move from her residence. In a letter dated October 12, 2007, HBH provided notice to the plaintiff that she had to vacate her unit within 90 days; this letter also informed the plaintiff that she was eligible for $1,450.00 for a moving allowance and $17,262.00 for rental assistance pursuant to the URA.

On October 22, 2007, the plaintiff moved from her residence and signed a lease for a replacement dwelling. She received an advance for her security deposit and the first month of rent in the new dwelling. On November 29, 2007, PCC paid the rental assistance funds.

In a letter dated December 2, 2007, the plaintiff informed HBH and HUD of her intent to appeal her relocation assistance determination, as she believed she was entitled to $17,000 in additional funds. By letter dated February 1, 2008, Chad Ruffner informed the plaintiff that he needed additional information to assess her appeal. In a letter dated March 13, 2008, John Tolbert of HUD advised the plaintiff that after reviewing her appeal, it was determined that she and her family qualified for an additional $9,461.20 in rental assistance.

The plaintiff wrote a letter to John Tolbert dated March 17, 2008, expressing her dissatisfaction with the recalculated amount of her rental assistance. Copies of this letter were sent to Michael Szupper of HUD and the County Commissioners. On March 31, 2008, the plaintiff received payment in connection with her appeal in the amount of $9,961.20, a sum which she believes is less than what she is entitled to under the URA.

The URA is designed to minimize the hardship of displacement on persons like the plaintiff who are displaced as a direct result of programs or projects undertaken by a federal agency or with federal financial assistance. 42 U.S.C. § 4621(b). To that end, the URA provides relocation services and assistance to displaced persons. See, 42 U.S.C. § 4625 and 49 C.F.R. Part 24.*fn4 The parties agree that the plaintiff was eligible to receive several types of URA relocation services, including: relocation advisory services pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 24.205; relocation notices pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 24.203; reimbursement for moving expenses pursuant to 49 C.F.R. §§ 24.301 and 24.302; and payments for the added cost of replacement housing or rental assistance pursuant to 49 C.F.R. §§ 24.401-24.403.

In her amended complaint, the plaintiff contends that in the course of her relocation, the defendants failed to comply with the URA in several respects -- such as by failing to provide certain relocation services, not properly calculating her relocation rental assistance or making timely payment, and not promptly or properly determining her appeal -- all of which deprived her of her Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection (Count I) and due process (Count II) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, the plaintiff complains that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (Count V) and are liable for breach of contract/unjust enrichment (Count III) and negligence (Count IV).

County defendants' motion to dismiss:

In response to the amended complaint, the County defendants have moved to dismiss it pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Among their arguments for dismissal, the County defendants assert that the plaintiff has failed to establish municipal liability, as she does not allege deprivation of rights from an unconstitutional County policy or custom; that the individual County defendants had no personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing and are entitled to qualified immunity; that the plaintiff has failed to set forth cognizable civil rights claims against them; and that her state law claims are barred by the PA Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 8541, et seq.

In reviewing a motion to dismiss, all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). A complaint will be dismissed if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complainant's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a private cause of action exists against state officials for violations of § 4625 of the URA. Pietroniro v. Borough of Oceanport, 764 F.2d 976, 980 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1020 (1985). Also see, Munoz v. City of Philadelphia, 2007 WL 2973837, *7-*8 (E.D.Pa., Oct. 10, 2007) (stating that "a private cause of action exists under § 1983 for violations of § 4625(a) of the URA"), citing Pietroniro, supra. The defendants do not argue otherwise.

As discussed above, HUD and the County entered into agreements pursuant to the Home Investment Partnerships Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12701, et seq., wherein HUD agreed to make funds available in exchange for the County's agreement to develop affordable housing. The plaintiff alleges, and the record shows that in order to receive HOME Investment partnership funding ("HOME funds"), the County provided certifications that it would comply with the URA and its implementing regulations and follow a residential anti-displacement and relocation assistance plan under section 104(d) of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.*fn5

In order "to receive federal funds for projects, ... state and local agencies must certify that they will provide relocation benefits under the URA to affected persons and businesses." Supreme Oil Co. v. Metropolitan Transp. Authority, 157 F.3d 148, 150 (2d Cir. 1998), citing 42 U.S.C. § 4604. "The grantee agency may contract with another public or private agency to administer the relocation benefits, but the actual grantee remains at all times responsible for assuring that the federal funds are disbursed in compliance with the URA." Supreme Oil Co., 157 F.3d at 150. The URA also mandates that a "displacing agency" shall ensure that relocation assistance services are made available to displaced persons. 42 U.S.C. § 4625(b)-(c). A "displacing agency" means "any Federal agency carrying out a program or project, and any State, State Agency, or person carrying out a program or project with Federal financial assistance, which causes a person to be a displaced person." Id. § 4601(11).

Here, the County contracted with HBH to develop the Project at issue, and in connection therewith, it loaned HOME funds to HBH and WEM Housing; WEM Housing hired PCC and Carlotta Paige to assist in relocating persons displaced by the Project, but the County remained responsible for ensuring that the relocation complied with the URA and its regulations.*fn6 The plaintiff contends that County Commissioners Bayla and Ceraso lent HOME funds to HBH and WEM Housing illegally, as neither organization qualified for such funds.*fn7

She also complains that the defendants failed to comply with the URA and its implementing regulations in several respects, such as by not providing certain relocation notices or services in a timely manner, not properly calculating her rental assistance payments, and not promptly or properly reviewing her appeal.*fn8

A municipality may be held liable for civil rights violations where conduct pursuant to its policy or custom causes a constitutional violation. Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). The County defendants argue that the plaintiff has failed to allege a deprivation of her rights which was caused by a County policy or custom. However, an official policy may arise when a decision to adopt a particular course of action ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.