United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge
November 13, 2017, the plaintiff, Christine Ward
(“Ward”), filed a complaint challenging a policy
of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (the
“Housing Authority”) to summarily reject all
applicants for public housing who have unpaid post-eviction
money judgments pending against them. (Docket #2 at 1). This
matter comes before the Court on the plaintiff's petition
to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #1).
order to allow a plaintiff to proceed without paying the
filing fee, the Court must first decide whether the plaintiff
has the ability to pay the filing fee and, if not, whether
the lawsuit is frivolous. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a),
(e)(2)(B)(I). On the first question, Ward avers in her motion
that she is unemployed, unmarried, and has no assets. (Docket
#1 at 1, 3-4). Her only income is social security payments,
which total $9, 600 annually (or $800 per month).
Id. at 2. Ward's monthly expenses, detailed in
her motion, total $862. Id. at 2-3. On these
averments, the Court finds that Ward has demonstrated that
she cannot pay the filing fee.
notwithstanding any filing fee, the Court must dismiss a
complaint or portion thereof if it has raised claims that are
legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). To state a cognizable
claim under the federal notice pleading system, a plaintiff
is required to provide a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff
to plead specific facts and his statement need only
“give the defendant fair notice of what
the…claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007). However, a complaint that offers
“labels and conclusions” or “formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, “that is plausible on
its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570).
to Ward's complaint, she is an elderly black woman living
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2005, she was evicted and
judgment was entered against her in the amount of $540.98.
(Docket #2 at 2). In 2016, Ward applied for public housing
through the Housing Authority. Id. On June 7, 2016,
the Housing Authority informed Ward that her application
would be withdrawn unless she provided proof that she had
satisfied the 2005 post-eviction judgment. Id.
Because of her low income, Ward had not paid the judgment.
presumed that her application for public housing had been
withdrawn and, therefore, denied. Id. at 3. She
requested an informal hearing with the Housing Authority, but
the Housing Authority declined to provide one, instead
instructing Ward to reapply. Id. Ward reapplied. The
Housing Authority again sent notice indicating that in order
to complete her application, Ward was required to provide
proof that she satisfied the 2005 judgment. Id. Ward
did not provide such proof. Id. The Housing
Authority did not offer Ward public housing, a place on a
waiting list, or an informal hearing. Id. Instead,
the Housing Authority instructed Ward to again reapply
because her application expired without all required
on these facts, Ward brings claims under the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act
(“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-31.
Id. at 3-7.
due process claim, Ward contends that applicants for public
housing have a right to an individualized determination of
eligibility, and that if the Housing Authority denies an
application, the agency must provide the applicant with an
opportunity to attend an informal hearing. Id.
(citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437d(c)(3) and 24 C.F.R.
§ 960.208). Ward claims that by withdrawing her
application based only on her failure to prove she had
satisfied an outstanding post-eviction judgment, the Housing
Authority denied Ward her “due process rights to have
her application fully and fairly considered, an
individualized determination of her suitability for public
housing, and an informal hearing.” Id. at 4.
FHA claim, Ward contends that the Housing Authority's
policy regarding applicants with outstanding post-eviction
judgments has a discriminatory impact on “protected
classes” of people, including black people, women, and
people with children. Id. at 4-7. Under the FHA, it
is unlawful “[t]o refuse to sell or rent after the
making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for
the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny,
a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion,
sex, familial status, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 3604(a); see also Texas Dep't of Hous. &
Cmty. Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.,
135 S.Ct. 2507, 2525 (2015) (holding that
"disparate-impact" claims are cognizable under the
FHA). "[A] plaintiff bringing a disparate-impact claim
challenges practices that have a 'disproportionately
adverse effect on minorities' and are otherwise
unjustified by a legitimate rationale." Inclusive
Communities Project, Inc., 135 S.Ct. at 2513 (citation
allegations, drafted with the aid of counsel, are detailed,
describing the timeline of relevant events and connecting
those facts to her claims. Given the exceedingly lenient
standard of review applied at screening, the Court finds that
Ward's claims are not frivolous. As a result, the Court
will grant Ward leave to proceed in forma pauperis.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(c)(3) provides that the
Court must order service by the U.S. Marshal, or a person
specially appointed by the court, if the plaintiff is
authorized, as she is in this case, to proceed in forma
pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See Williams
v. Werlinger, 795 F.3d 759, 760 (7th Cir. 2015). Because
Ward is represented by counsel, the Court will withhold
ordering service at this time. If, after consulting with
counsel, Ward wishes that service be effected by the U.S.
Marshal, she may move the Court for an appropriate order.
IT IS ORDERED that the plaintiff's
motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis