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Degelman v. Housing Authority of City of Pittsburgh

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

June 10, 2013

Sharon Degelman
v.
Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, Appellant

Submitted: April 26, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION

FRIEDMAN, SENIOR JUDGE

The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (Housing Authority) appeals from the September 28, 2012, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court), which reversed the decision of a hearing officer terminating Sharon Degelman's housing assistance benefits received pursuant to Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (Act), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1437f, because the hearing officer capriciously disregarded substantial evidence. We affirm.

On April 6, 2008, police officer David Sisak searched Degelman's apartment located at 1412 North Murtland Avenue (Property) pursuant to a search warrant. The search yielded six empty heroin stamp bags, a rubber tie band, nine cotton balls, two crack pipes, and used hypodermic needles. (See Inventory of Seized Property; Police Report; N.T., 7/14/08, at 2-3.) Degelman pled guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. (N.T., 7/14/08, at 13.)

On May 1, 2008, the Housing Authority issued a notice to Degelman terminating her housing assistance benefits pursuant to 24 C.F.R. §982.553(b)(1)(ii) because she had engaged in drug-related criminal activity in violation of 24 C.F.R. §982.551(l). Degelman requested an informal grievance hearing.

A hearing officer held the grievance hearing on July 14, 2008. Officer Sisak testified about the extent of drug paraphernalia found at the Property. (N.T., 7/14/08, at 2, 4.) He stated that the Property was "probably the worst place I have ever seen, including abandoned houses[, ] since I've been on the job" and that "there were about 2, 000 needles just everywhere." (Id.)

Degelman testified that on April 6, 2008, she left the Property to go to work at 4:15 p.m. and returned home around 8:40 p.m. (N.T., 7/14/08, at 10.) While Degelman acknowledged the disorderly conduct charge, she denied participating in any drug-related activity and denied having drug paraphernalia at the Property. (Id. at 11, 13.) Degelman previously suspected that intruders had entered the Property because she was missing some personal belongings, and she had reported to her landlord that the lock on her back door was broken. (Id. at 12.)

Richard Elser, the maintenance man for the Property, testified that he visited the Property in the early afternoon on April 6, 2008, to fix the back door. (N.T., 7/14/08, at 5.) He stated that he may have heard voices inside before entering the Property. (Id. at 6.) He recalled that the back door was broken and un-lockable. (Id.) He noted that Degelman previously reported break-ins at the Property. (Id. at

7.) He believed that Degelman did not use drugs. (Id. at 8.) Finally, he contradicted Officer Sisak's testimony, stating:

I wanted to comment about those 2, 000 needles laying everywhere. I go into [Degelman]'s apartment at least once a week. She's always calling saying that this is broke; that is broke; could you change the lightbulb[, ] etc. If there were 2, 000 needles laying around, I would have seen them. I mean, she keeps a clean apartment.

(Id. at 9.)

The hearing officer issued a decision denying the grievance because Degelman had engaged in drug-related criminal activity. Degelman appealed to the trial court, which affirmed, concluding that sufficient evidence supported the hearing officer's decision. Degelman appealed to this court.

On September 2, 2009, this court vacated the order of the trial court and remanded for further findings of fact. See Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh v. Degelman (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 228 C.D. 2009, filed September 2, 2009), slip op. at 7. The hearing officer held a second hearing ...


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