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Tori Bailey v. Lynda M. Haley

March 23, 2012

TORI BAILEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LYNDA M. HALEY, CAROL NAVON, JOEL A. JOHNSON & THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tucker, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

March ___, 2012

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Lynda M. Haley ("Haley"), Carol Navon ("Navon"), Joel A. Johnson ("Johnson"), and the Montgomery County Housing Authority (the "MCHA") Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 12) and Plaintiff Tori Bailey's ("Plaintiff" or "Bailey") Response thereto (Doc. 15.) Upon consideration of the parties' motions with briefs and exhibits, this Court will grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

I. FACTS

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action arises out of the allegation that Defendants, acting under color of state law, violated Plaintiff's civil rights by terminating her Section 8 subsidized housing benefits without due process of law. (Amended Complaint ¶¶ 65-68.) The relevant facts are as follows.

In the spring of 2010, Plaintiff became involved in a relationship with a former boyfriend of one Jessica Ford ("Ms. Ford"), causing a dispute between the two women. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18.) On or about April 14, 2010, a physical altercation broke out between the two women and criminal assault charges were subsequently filed against Plaintiff. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-27.) As a result, Plaintiff received a letter dated July 21, 2010, from the MCHA informing her that her Section 8 benefits were being terminated pursuant to 24 C.F.R. §§ 982.551 and 982.552 for engaging in violent criminal behavior. (Mot. for TRO, Ex. C.) On August 31, 2010, an administrative hearing was conducted at Plaintiff's request to contest the termination of her benefits. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 35-36.) At the hearing, Plaintiff and a witness for Plaintiff testified that Plaintiff indeed engaged in physical violence toward Ms. Ford, although Plaintiff claimed she did so only in self-defense. (Mot. for TRO, Ex. D at 18-36, 47-48.) Detective James Angelucci from the Norristown Police Department testified that Plaintiff was the aggressor in the altercation. (Am. Compl. ¶ 45.) The MCHA declined to subpoena Ms. Ford to testify. (Am. Compl. ¶ 51.)

The hearing officer, Mark W. Voigt, Esq., finding that Plaintiff engaged in violent criminal conduct, terminated her benefits. Plaintiff received notice of such termination via a letter dated October 25, 2010, stating that the decision was "final," and silent on Plaintiff's right to appeal such decision. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 55-58.) Plaintiff did, however, receive verbal notice of her right to appeal any decision resulting from the hearing while being sworn in prior to her testimony. (Mot. for TRO, Ex. D at 6-7.) Plaintiff stopped receiving Section 8 benefits as of December 1, 2010. In March 2011, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct as a summary offense, and all other criminal charges concerning the altercation with Ms. Ford were dropped. (Am. Compl. ¶ 32.)

On March 18, 2011, Plaintiff filed her Complaint, which was amended on May 4, 2011.

The Amended Complaint contains one count, for a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated her due process rights by: (1) providing insufficient notice of the events giving rise to the termination of her Section 8 benefits; (2) terminating her benefits solely on the basis of uncorroborated hearsay evidence and failing to provide Plaintiff with an opportunity to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses; (3) relying on evidence outside of the record to make a decision; (4) placing the burden of proof on Plaintiff to prove that her benefits should not be terminated, rather than placing the burden of proof on the MCHA; (5) misleading Plaintiff with respect to her appellate rights by stating in the transmittal letter that the decision was "final," without also informing her that she could appeal to the Court of Common Pleas; and (6) failing to ensure the neutrality of the hearing officer. (Am. Compl. ¶ 68.) On May 18, 2011, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6)

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000).

While a court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The United States Supreme Court has recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original). In Twombly, the Court made clear that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics," but only "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A "pleader is required to 'set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'" Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

In 2009, the United States Supreme Court revisited the requirements for surviving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). In Iqbal, the Court made clear that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements [will] not suffice" to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 1949. "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief [will] survive[] a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950.

In light of the decision in Iqbal, the Third Circuit set forth a two-part analysis to be applied by district courts when presented with a 12(b)(6) motion. First, the court must separate the legal elements and factual allegations of the claim, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint demonstrate that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (citation omitted). If the court can only infer the ...


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