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Brown v. West Warwick Housing Authority

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

June 10, 2016

WEST WARWICK HOUSING AUTHORITY, CINDY WHITE OVERTON and RICHARD LECO, individually and in their capacities as partners of D&V/MAINSAIL, KATIE FAGAN, and MARC STARLING, individually and in his official capacity as executive director of the West Warwick Housing Authority, Defendants.


          WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief District Judge.

         This case arises from attempts by the West Warwick Housing Authority ("WWHA") and D&V/Mainsail ("D&V") - a former WWHA contractor - to revoke Plaintiff Leveland Brown's ("Plaintiff") Section 8 housing voucher. According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Defendants' revocation attempts violated a number of federal statutes and regulations, infringed on Plaintiff's constitutional rights, defamed Plaintiff, and amounted to extortion. Defendants have moved to dismiss each of the claims against them. (See ECF Nos. 18, 20.) For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff has been a member of the Section 8 voucher program since 2003. (Am. Compl. ¶ 50, ECF No. 16.) In May 2015, Plaintiff started a food truck business, Sweet Daddy's Chicken, with the help of Dianne Cummiskey, who agreed to finance Plaintiff's venture. (Id. ¶¶ 59, 66.) Anticipating the start of his business, Plaintiff inquired at his annual WWHA income certification meeting about the proper way to report the food truck to WWHA. (Id. ¶ 63.) According to his Senior Housing Specialist, he would only need to report the business when he started to receive an income from it. (Id. ¶ 64.) Since Plaintiff had not earned any net income from the business, he never disclosed it to WWHA. (Id. ¶ 66.)

         On June 17, 2015, someone alerted Katie Fagan, a former D&V employee assigned to WWHA, that Plaintiff was defrauding WWHA through the food truck. (Id. ¶¶ 67-69.) Fagan raised the allegation with D&V, and they agreed on a plan to handle it. (Id. ¶ 70.) Fagan called Plaintiff and asked him to come to WWHA's office; when Plaintiff refused, Fagan, with a WWHA employee, confronted Plaintiff at his food truck. (Id. ¶¶ 73-74.) In front of Plaintiff's customers and neighbors, Fagan and the employee accused Plaintiff of committing fraud, threatened to have Plaintiff thrown in jail, and demanded Plaintiff relinquish his voucher. (Id. ¶ 74.) To end the confrontation, Plaintiff agreed to meet with Fagan at WWHA's office later that afternoon. (Id. ¶ 77.) At the appointment, Plaintiff claims Fagan and a WWHA employee continued to threaten him with jail and demand that he relinquish his housing voucher. (Id. ¶¶ 77-81.) Scared of Fagan's threats, Plaintiff complied with her request and agreed to relinquish his voucher. (Id. ¶ 82.)

         Two days later, however, Plaintiff had a change of heart and sent WWHA a letter revoking his relinquishment. (Id. ¶ 83.) WWHA responded by sending Plaintiff a letter informing him that it was terminating his voucher because he "earned income that [he] knowingly did not report to [the WWHA], income from Sweet Daddy's Chicken." (Id. ¶ 84.) Plaintiff requested and received an informal hearing to dispute the termination. (Id. ¶¶ 86-87.) The hearing officer upheld the termination and WWHA stopped paying Plaintiff's voucher on September 30, 2015. (Id. ¶ 119.) As a result, Plaintiff paid the entire amount of his rent for the month of October. (Id. ¶ 120.)

         On November 4, 2015, after Plaintiff filed the present action, WWHA's new Executive Director, Mark Starling, informed Plaintiff that WWHA had reinstated his voucher effective November 1. (Id. ¶ 122.) WWHA also scheduled an interim examination to verify Plaintiff's income for November 9. (Id.) Plaintiff's attorney arranged for the examination to be rescheduled twice. (Id. ¶¶ 123, 127-28.) Nevertheless, on November 24, 2015, WWHA informed Plaintiff that his voucher would be suspended effective December 1, 2015 due to his failure to appear for the interim examination. (Id. ¶ 129.) Despite this notice, WWHA continues to pay Plaintiff's voucher.

         II. Standard of Review

         When considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), courts must view the facts contained in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Perez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008). To survive the motion, however, plaintiff must present "factual allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.'" Id . (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Put another way, "[w]hile detailed factual allegations are not required, a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' is not sufficient." DeLucca v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n of Rhode Island, No. C.A. 13-155L, 2015 WL 2037547, at *1 (D.R.I. May 5, 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's claims are not moot.

         Although Defendants' briefs are not pillars of clarity, they appear to argue that Counts 1, 2, 7 and 8 should be dismissed on mootness grounds. Specifically, Defendants assert that Plaintiff has already received the relief he requests - reinstatement of his voucher and reimbursement for any rent he paid due to his voucher revocation. Defendants' assertions are incorrect.

         The Amended Complaint alleges that (1) Plaintiff's voucher was revoked effective September 1, 2015; (2) Plaintiff paid his full rent for September because his voucher was revoked; (3) Plaintiff's voucher was reinstated on November 1, 2015; (4) Plaintiff's voucher was suspended again on December 1, 2015; and (5) notwithstanding this suspension, WWHA continues to pay Plaintiff's voucher. Based on these allegations, the Amended Complaint alleges at least two injuries that this Court can remedy: Plaintiff's lost rent for September 2015 and the uncertain status of Plaintiff's voucher. Thus, Plaintiff has alleged an "actual injury traceable to the defendant[s] and likely to be redressed by a favorable ...

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