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Muhammad v. Louis

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 5, 2018

MARYAM E. MUHAMMAD, Plaintiff,
v.
BEVERLY LOUIS et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 12, 2016, this court granted pro se plaintiff Maryam E. Muhammad leave to proceed on claims that several employees of the City of Madison Community Development Authority (“CDA”) terminated her housing benefits in violation of her due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Specifically, Muhammad claims that CDA employees Beverly Louis and Tom Conrad failed to provide her adequate notice of her rights and scheduled her informal termination hearing on a date she could not attend. Before the court is plaintiff's motion to amend (dkt. #49) and defendants' motion for summary judgment (dkt. #42). For the reasons that follow, the court will deny plaintiff's request to amend and grant defendants' motion for summary judgment, closing this case.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS[1]

         The CDA contracts with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to operate a rent assistance program in the City of Madison pursuant to Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et seq. (“Section 8 housing”). Applicants apply for Section 8 housing assistance, and if accepted, they receive housing vouchers that permit the holder to search for a privately owned unit within the City with the rent negotiated by the CDA.

         During the relevant time period, plaintiff Maryam Muhammad was receiving Section 8 housing assistance. Defendant Tom Conrad is the Interim Director and Housing Assistance Supervisor of the CDA. From 2007 to June of 2016, he was the CDA's Section 8 supervisor to whom defendant Beverly Louis reported as a housing specialist. While Louis acted at Conrad's direction, he was the final decision-maker with respect to Muhammad's housing assistance voucher.

         On August 30, 2013, the CDA served Muhammad with written notice terminating her Section 8 housing assistance voucher, effective February 28, 2014. That notice explained Muhammad violated CDA program rules by failing to report income from Unemployment Compensation. As provided by the CDA rules, Muhammad responded by requesting an informal hearing.

         Conrad then sent Muhammad a follow-up letter, dated September 19, 2013, scheduling her hearing for October 28, 2013, at 10:30 a.m. Although Conrad met with Muhammad at that date and time, the two agreed the hearing itself would be rescheduled to November 20, 2013, at 1:30 p.m., because (1) Muhammad objected to the informal hearing officer and (2) Conrad wanted to assure the CDA had a city attorney present at the hearing. Even then, the hearing did not go forward as scheduled.

         Instead, on December 4, 2013, Conrad approved a Repayment Agreement (“Agreement”) in which Muhammad acknowledged owing the CDA a total of $5, 184.00 for the unreported compensation benefits and agreed to make monthly repayments in the amount of $432.00. Despite this agreement, Muhammad failed to make payments timely and informed Conrad that she would not be doing so going forward either. Construing this as a breach of their Agreement, Conrad again initiated the process to terminate Muhammad's housing assistance voucher.

         To that end, the CDA sent Muhammad written notice on January 21, 2014, terminating her housing assistance voucher effective February 28, 2014 (“Notice”). While Louis drafted the Notice at Conrad's direction, he made the final decision to terminate the voucher and issued Muhammad the Notice. This three-page Notice provided Muhammad with several pieces of information. First, the Notice explained that Muhammad had violated three CDA policies: (1) failure to report Unemployment Compensation in violation of 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(b)(1), (2), Voucher 4.B.1; (2) failure to supply true and complete information in violation of 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(b)(4), Voucher 4.C; and (3) breach of the Agreement in violation of 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(vii). Second, the Notice outlined the events comprising the violations, focusing on her failure to make the monthly payments under the Agreement. Third, under the heading “Appeal/Request for Informal Hearing, ” the Notice stated that if Muhammad wanted to appeal the decision, she “must submit a written request for an Informal Hearing to CDA at the address above -- no later than 4:30 p.m. on February 4, 2014.” (Ex. E (dkt. #45-5) at 2.) Fourth, the Notice explained that once the informal hearing is scheduled, it “will not be rescheduled unless you can show good cause as described in Section 8 Administrative Plan, Chapter 16, Part III, or unless you require rescheduling as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.”

         In addition, the Notice listed Muhammad's rights generally, which included the rights to: (1) an informal private hearing not open to the public; (2) an explanation of the basis for the CDA's decision to terminate assistance; (3) be represented by an attorney at her expense or by another person of her choice; (4) examine, at her expense, all CDA documents that are the basis of the CDA's action; (5) a copy of any criminal record that is the basis for termination; and (6) a copy of the CDA's procedures. Finally, the Notice listed Muhammad's rights at the informal hearing, which included the rights to present information and witnesses, present written or oral objections to the CDA's evidence, hear evidence against her and cross-examine CDA witnesses, request CDA staff to be available to answer questions, receive a transcript of the Informal Hearing at her expense, and a written decision.

         In an email dated January 22, 2014, Muhammad again requested an informal hearing. She also dropped off a hard copy of her request at the CDA. On January 31, 2014, Conrad sent Muhammad a written notice by both regular mail and email, scheduling the informal hearing for February 12, 2014. The notice also stated that Muhammad's failure to appear within fifteen minutes of the scheduled time could result in her forfeiting the right to an informal hearing. The same day Muhammad received Conrad's email, January 31, she responded that the February 12 date would not work for the informal hearing, nor would any other date the entire month of February, and that she would not be available until mid-March. (Ex. H (dkt. #45-8).)

         On February 2, 2014, Muhammad also emailed Conrad that she needed additional time, both to get an attorney and because she had a disability. (Id.) Muhammad then followed up on February 5, 2014, by providing the CDA with a letter from her physician, Dr. Weathers, who similarly asked for a postponement of the February 12 informal hearing because Muhammad “has many chronic medical diseases and spends much time on her medical care.” (Ex. J (dkt. #45-10).) Muhammad had also written on the bottom of the February 5th letter that she was requesting a 90-day postponement of the Informal hearing.

         Conrad then sent Muhammad an email on February 5, 2014, which acknowledged Muhammad's request for a postponement because of her disability, as well as her submission of Dr. Weathers' letter that included her handwritten, 90-day postponement request. Conrad also wrote that he had contacted Dr. Weathers to ask for clarification about Muhammad's disability and need for accommodation, but that Dr. Weathers had not yet responded to his request for information. Accordingly, as of February 5, Conrad wrote that the hearing date remained February 12, although the CDA would attempt to follow up on her requested accommodation and would notify her in writing whether her request was approved or denied. However, on February 11, Conrad sent Muhammad a letter informing her that he would be postponing the hearing for approximately one month because the CDA had been unable to finish evaluating her accommodation request. In particular, Conrad explained he had not been able to discuss with Dr. Weathers the specifics of the accommodation Muhammad needed.

         Conrad followed up via mail and email on February 24, 2014, with written notice that the informal hearing was reset for March 19 at 9:30 a.m. Muhammad immediately called Conrad on the afternoon of February 24th, explaining to him that she had a doctor's appointment on March 19 and could not attend. However, she refused to provide Conrad with documentation confirming her appointment; rather, she told Conrad that he should communicate directly with her attorney, Mr. Jae Lee, in the future. Later that same afternoon, Muhammad also ...


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