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Goodavage v. Fiduciary Real Estate Development

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 21, 2018




         Plaintiffs Diana Goodavage and Robert Vincent Walter filed this lawsuit against the Fiduciary Real Estate Development Company (“FRED”) and Dane County Housing Authority (“DCHA”), claiming that they were unlawfully evicted from an apartment in retaliation for filing a small claims action against FRED. Plaintiffs seek reversal of their eviction, as well as damages and an informal hearing by the DCHA to reinstate their Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher. Because plaintiffs are proceeding without prepayment of the filing fee, however, the court is required to screen the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) to determine, among other things, whether they have “a claim on which relief may be granted.” Plus, the DCHA has filed a motion requesting that the court screen and dismiss this lawsuit with prejudice. (Dkt. #6.) Because plaintiffs are acting pro se, they are held to a “less stringent standard” in crafting pleadings. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Even so, this court lacks jurisdiction to provide plaintiffs the relief they seek. Accordingly, this lawsuit will be dismissed, but without prejudice to plaintiffs' ability to pursue a claim related to the Section 8 voucher.


         Plaintiffs Goodavage and Walter lived in an apartment together from October 2001 until November 19, 2010. During this time period, Goodavage was the named lessee, FRED was her landlord, and Walter apparently lived with Goodavage. Walter alleges that since 1993, the “household” has been receiving a Section 8 housing choice voucher, but he does not state which one of them was the recipient.[2]

         The last lease between Goodavage and FRED ran from noon on November 1, 2009, to noon on October 31, 2010. Apparently FRED offered Goodavage $150 in incentives if she signed and returned a renewal form by August 15, 2010, which Goodavage did after making hand-written changes to the form and signing it. Although her proposed changes would have extended the end time and date of the lease by one day, FRED did not agree to the changes. Instead, FRED indicated to Goodavage that it would not renew the lease until the apartment passed inspection by the DCHA, which is a requirement for Goodavage to continue participating in the DCHA's Section 8 rent assistance program.

         Although the apartment did not pass DCHA's initial inspection on August 5, it did pass a re-inspection that took place in September. Afterwards, FRED sent Goodavage a letter stating that it would renew the lease effective November 1, 2010, on a month-to-month basis, but only if Goodavage signed and returned an enclosed renewal form by November 1, 2010. FRED also informed Goodavage that if she signed the renewal form, it would still provide her with the $150 in incentives.

         At some point in August of 2010, rather than signing that form, Goodavage filed a small claims action against FRED based on an alleged breach of contract and entitlement to the $150 in incentives FRED had offered. After a court commissioner dismissed that case, Goodavage requested a trial before the circuit court. While her request for a trial was pending, FRED informed her that if she did not sign the renewal form, she would become a holdover tenant. Even then, FRED apparently advised that she could still sign the renewal form and receive the $150. Again, Goodavage chose not to sign the form.

         When Goodavage's existing lease expired by its term on October 31, 2010, she still attempted to pay FRED rent for the month of November. At that point, FRED decided to commence the eviction process. See Fiduciary Real Estate Dev. Inc. v. Goodavage, No. 2010-SC-10255 (Dane Cty. Cir. Ct. Nov. 1, 2010). As he was not on the lease, Walter was neither named as a party to that proceeding, nor were there any publicly available records indicating that he was a party to any Wisconsin small claims or eviction actions in 2010. A state circuit court trial was held on November 19, 2010. While the records of that trial indicate that all parties appeared, and the court received testimony and evidence, Walter claims that court only asked FRED about the lease, whose employees stated that they did not know who was on the lease. That day the court entered a judgment of eviction, which Goodavage appealed pro se.

         The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed Goodavage's eviction. Fiduciary Real Estate Dev., Inc. v. Goodavage, No. 2010AP3056, unpubl. slip op. (Wis. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2011). The court held that Goodavage and FRED never entered into a new lease. The court also rejected Goodavage's claim under Wis.Stat. § 704.45(1)(c) that FRED retaliated against her for filing the small claims action, apparently because the state circuit court found that the evidence at the hearing did not suggest the eviction was retaliatory. The court further rejected Goodavage's argument on appeal that the circuit court erred in not permitting her son to testify at trial. While Goodavage filed a petition for review with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, that court dismissed the petition on March 12, 2012. See Fiduciary Real Estate Dev. Inc. v. Goodavage, No. 2010SC1022 (Wis. Mar. 12, 2012).

         After the court of appeals affirmed the eviction, FRED turned back to Goodavage's breach of contract claim pending in the circuit court. It notified the court about the eviction and requested dismissal of Goodavage's claim on preclusion grounds. See Goodavage v. FRED, No. 2012AP934, 2013 WI App. 13 (Wis. Cir. Ct. Dec. 6, 2012). The circuit court then held a hearing and granted FRED's request in March of 2012. Goodavage appealed, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that Goodavage did not adequately develop her arguments on appeal. That court also found that FRED and Goodavage never formed a contract that would require FRED to pay her the incentives. Id. ¶ 26.

         At some point during or after these proceedings (it is unclear when), the DCHA formally terminated Goodavage's Section 8 voucher. The details about the process are unclear, but plaintiffs allege that in October of 2010, Goodavage received a copy of a communication between FRED and the DCHA in which FRED claimed Goodavage “refused to sign a lease, ” a prerequisite for receiving the Section 8 voucher. At some point thereafter, the DCHA held an informal hearing related to Goodavage's participation in the Section 8 voucher program. Plaintiffs allege that they received notice of the hearing via email and not the U.S. mail. The complaint does not include any allegations about who actually appeared at this hearing, what happened at the hearing, or the outcome.


         Plaintiffs' complaint asks this court to dismiss the eviction proceeding, order FRED to pay damages, and order the DCHA to schedule another informal hearing to reinstate their Section 8 voucher. Unfortunately for plaintiffs, they do not state a claim that can proceed in federal district court.

         I. ...

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