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Rodriguez v. Reading Housing Authority

argued: August 26, 1993.

JINETTE RODRIGUEZ; MILAGROS MUNOZ; CARMEN RIVERA, APPELLANTS
v.
READING HOUSING AUTHORITY; DANIEL F. LUCKEY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ACTING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF READING HOUSING AUTHORITY, APPELLEES



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. D.C. Civil No. 91-07899.

Before: Becker, Nygaard, and Alito, Circuit Judges.

Author: Alito

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALITO, Circuit Judge :

Carmen Rivera appeals from a district court order granting summary judgment in favor of the Reading Housing Authority ("RHA") and its executive director on her claims that the RHA's policy regarding public housing applications by minors violated various provisions of federal law. On appeal, Rivera contends that the RHA policy contravenes certain regulations of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). We hold that the RHA policy does not violate those regulations as currently interpreted by HUD, and we therefore affirm the order of the district court.

I.

The factual background of this case is set out in some detail in the published opinion of the district court. Rivera v. Reading Housing Authority, 819 F. Supp. 1323, 1326-28 (E.D. Pa. 1993). In brief, the relevant background is as follows.

The RHA is a Pennsylvania public housing authority. Pursuant to the United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et. seq., the RHA has entered into annual contribution contracts with the Secretary of HUD, and these contracts have required the RHA to comply with the Housing Act and HUD regulations.

Before July 1991, the RHA's Admission and Occupancy Policy contained the following provision:

No housing unit under the jurisdiction of the RHA shall be rented to any applicant who has not attained the age of eighteen (18) years, unless said person be determined to be an "emancipated minor" entitled to contract for necessities, or other person, under said age, able to establish that he is legally able to execute for himself and members of his family, to be housed by the RHA, a binding and enforceable contract for necessities.

See 819 F. Supp. at 1327 n.4. The RHA interpreted this policy to require a minor applicant to obtain a judicial decree of emancipation. See id.

In about March 1991, the RHA revised its Admissions and Occupancy Policy, and HUD approved the revision in July of that year. The revision, which took effect on July 23, expressly states that minor applicants must obtain a judicial decree of emancipation in order to be eligible to rent RHA-administered public housing.*fn1

In May 1991, prior to the date when the revised policy took effect, Rivera and David Gonzalez, the man with whom she was living, filed with the RHA a written application for public housing. At that time, Rivera was 16 years old. The RHA responded to this application by sending Rivera a letter stating that she would have to obtain a judicial decree of emancipation. Rivera did not seek such a decree. Instead, her attorney wrote to the RHA objecting to that requirement and explaining that under Pennsylvania law minors may enter into binding contracts for "necessaries." In September, the RHA denied Rivera's application for failure to comply with its policy.

In December 1991, Rivera and two other named plaintiffs filed this action under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, contending that the RHA's policy regarding minor tenants violated, among other provisions of federal law, the Housing Act, HUD implementing regulations, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Their complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as damages. After the plaintiffs' motion for class certification was denied and two of the named plaintiffs were voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants and against ...


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