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Coe v. Housing Authority of City of Milwaukee

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 1, 2016

TAKIA COE, Plaintiff,


Lynn Adelman LYNN ADELMAN District Judge.

Plaintiff Takia Coe brings this Section 1983 action and a common law claim for certiorari review alleging that the decision of the defendant, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (“HACM”), to terminate her federal rent assistance benefits was unlawful. Before me now are a motion to dismiss for lack of standing and cross motions for summary judgment.

I. Background

Plaintiff has participated in the federal rent assistance program, commonly referred to as Section 8, for approximately 15 years. Local housing authorities administer the Section 8 program. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.51(a). Defendant administers the program in Milwaukee. In 2009 and 2010, defendant discovered that plaintiff had earned income from sources she had not disclosed and investigated whether she had reported all of her income as required. In 2010, defendant received a report that an unauthorized person was living with plaintiff and investigated that allegation. In April 2010, defendant’s employee, Jacquelyn Loberg, met with plaintiff to discuss plaintiff’s compliance with program rules. Soon after, defendant issued a notice to plaintiff questioning her continued eligibility for the Section 8 program and offering plaintiff an informal hearing. Pursuant to plaintiff’s request, defendant held a hearing, and on September 2, 2010 the hearing examiner issued a written decision terminating plaintiff from the program.

Plaintiff challenged her termination, and a magistrate judge vacated it, finding that defendant’s notice to plaintiff was deficient. See Coe. v. Hous. Auth. of the City of Milwaukee, No. 10-CV-915 (E.D. Wis.). Subsequently, defendant held another hearing, and on November 21, 2013, the hearing examiner again terminated plaintiff from the Section 8 program, concluding (1) that plaintiff had violated defendant’s rule that participants must report income changes within 15 business days and (2) that plaintiff had failed to report several unauthorized household members and that this amounted to fraud.

II. Discussion

A. Standing

I asked the parties to brief an issue raised but not developed by defendant, whether plaintiff has standing to bring her § 1983 claims inasmuch as she moved to West Allis in 2013 and “ported”[1] her Section 8 benefits to West Allis’s program. To have standing, a plaintiff must allege (1) a “personal injury” or injury in fact, (2) that the injury is “fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct, ” and (3) that it is “likely to be redressed by the requested relief.” Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984). An injury in fact is one “that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180–81 (2000) (citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992)).

Plaintiff asserts two injuries which she argues are sufficient to establish standing: (1) that her termination of benefits will likely prevent her from moving to another jurisdiction because local housing authorities may deny her Section 8 assistance based on such termination, and (2) that the termination prevents her from obtaining assistance in Milwaukee. Defendant argues that these injuries are speculative because plaintiff lives in West Allis and has not shown that she intends to move to Milwaukee or elsewhere or that another housing authority would deny her benefits. Defendant also argues that plaintiff’s injuries are not redressable because relief will not affect plaintiff’s current housing situation.

I conclude that plaintiff has an actual, ongoing injury that is sufficient to confer standing. This is so because the termination has caused plaintiff harm; it affected her housing options, and it placed a “black mark” on her in the Section 8 housing context which, if not removed, is likely to have ongoing, adverse effects. See O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495–96 (1974) (noting that a plaintiff who shows “continuing, present adverse affects” has an injury in fact). This injury is concrete; it is also particularized because it specifically affected plaintiff; and it is actual and non-speculative because if not reversed, will be attached to her going forward. Such an injury is similar to reputational harm, which is a cognizable injury in fact. Parsons v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 801 F.3d 701, 711 (6th Cir. 2015) (“Reputational injury . . . is sufficient to establish an injury-in-fact.”); Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Governor of N.J, 730 F.3d 208, 220 (3d Cir. 2013) (“As a matter of law, reputational harm is a cognizable injury in fact.”); see also Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod v. F.C.C., 141 F.3d 344, 349 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (finding that a church had standing to challenge the Federal Communication Commission’s (“FCC”) administrative decision that the church violated equal employment opportunity regulations because the FCC’s decision constituted “a black mark on the [c]hurch’s previously spotless licensing record and could affect its chances of license renewal down the road”).

Lujan is not to the contrary. It distinguishes cases where “a plaintiff’s asserted injury arises from the government’s allegedly unlawful regulation (or lack thereof) of someone else, ” and situations like the present case where “the plaintiff is himself an object of the action (or foregone action) at issue.” 504 U.S. at 561–62. In the former category of cases, “much more is needed” in order to establish an injury in fact, whereas in the latter, “there is ordinarily little question that the action or inaction has caused him injury, and that a judgment preventing or requiring the action will redress it.” Id. In the present case, plaintiff has a personal stake in the outcome, and this stake is sufficient “to assure that concrete adverseness” between the parties exists. Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 99 (1968). Further, plaintiff’s injury was caused by defendant’s termination decision and is redressable by the relief sought, reversal of such decision. If plaintiff achieves relief, the effect of the termination decision on her housing opportunities will be removed.

B. Merits

I may grant summary judgment where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, I consider all evidence submitted by the parties and draw all inferences in favor of ...

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