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Fields v. City of Salem Housing Authority

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 10, 2015

ALBERT J. FIELDS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SALEM HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

Albert J. Fields, Jr., Salem, New Jersey, Plaintiff Pro Se.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) is an amended complaint filed by Plaintiff pro se, Albert J. Fields. Plaintiff previously filed a complaint, which this Court dismissed for failure to comply with the pleading requirements set forth in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). (Mem. Op. and Order [Doc. No. 2] 6-7, Apr. 14, 2014.) The Court directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint "which sets forth facts demonstrating that Plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief." (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff then filed the amended complaint as directed by the Court. Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the amended complaint and dismiss sua sponte any claim if the Court determines that such claim is "frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." (Id. at 3.)

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action against the City of Salem Housing Authority (hereafter, "SHA"), which he alleges is a "municipal corporation established pursuant to United States housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 1401 et seq. and regulated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 24 C.F.R. § 900 et seq. and the Public Housing Occupancy, Handbook 7465.1 REV... to provide federally subsidized housing for low-income tenants[.]" (Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff also names as defendants two employees of the SHA, Elizabeth Loyle and Francine Dickerson. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.)

Plaintiff avers that on July 12, 2010, he entered into a residential lease agreement with the SHA for a one bedroom unit located at 133 Anderson Drive, Salem, New Jersey. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) At that time, Plaintiff's rent was $50 per month. (Id.) Plaintiff thereafter became employed and was also enrolled in Salem Community College. (Id. ¶ 7.) In April 2011, the SHA performed an interim rent evaluation and increased Plaintiff's rent. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to Plaintiff, the SHA required him to pay the rent increase retroactive from October 2010 in $20 installments added to the monthly rental fee. (Id.) Plaintiff was unable to pay the rent in June and July of 2011, and as a result the SHA filed a complaint for non-payment of rent. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff contends that in August 2011, he entered into a repayment agreement with the SHA and made all payments pursuant to that agreement. (Id. ¶ 10.)

In October 2011, however, Plaintiff was purportedly unable to pay his rent and therefore requested a financial hardship exemption. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) The SHA did not respond to this request until March 9, 2012, denying such request for failure to include documentation defining the hardship. (Id. ¶ 13.) In the interim, the SHA, on February 9, 2012, had filed another complaint for non-payment of rent. (Id. ¶ 12.) In that action, the court entered a judgment of possession for the SHA in the amount of $2, 399.50, which amount was subsequently reduced to $1, 972.50. (Id. ¶ 14.)

In May 2012, the SHA performed another rent evaluation and determined Plaintiff's new rent to be $206 per month. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was subsequently incarcerated, [1] which resulted in termination of his employment. (Id. ¶ 16.) On June 17, 2012, Plaintiff requested a financial hardship exemption, and Plaintiff was advised on August 17, 2012 that his rent would be reduced to $50 per month. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 18.) Nonetheless, on August 23, 2012, the SHA purportedly proceeded with eviction procedures for non-payment of rent, and ultimately obtained a default judgment of possession. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) Plaintiff appealed that order, and the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division vacated the default judgment. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 40.) The SHA apparently declined to proceed in that eviction action. (Id. ¶ 40.)

In December 2012, Plaintiff obtained employment as a cable television technician with Prince Telecom LLC, where he worked through April 2013. (Am. Compl. ¶ 26.) In May 2013, Plaintiff began collecting unemployment benefits, which were garnished by child support payments. (Id. ¶ 29.) In June 2013, the SHA again performed an annual recertification to determine Plaintiff's new rent, this time increasing his rent from $50 per month to $308 per month. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff opposed the rent adjustment in writing, arguing that there should be an exemption for child support and an "income disregard." (Id. ¶ 31.) Despite his obligation to pay $308 per month, Plaintiff paid only $50 rent for June and July 2013. (Id.)

On August 5, 2013, the SHA advised Plaintiff that given his earnings with Prince Telecom and work study earned while attending Salem Community College, he owed $2, 521 as unreported income. (Id. ¶ 32.) Such payment was to be made by August 21, 2013. (Id.) On September 30, 2013, the SHA then filed a complaint for non-payment of rent seeking $2, 521 as unreported income, rent in the amount of $258 for the month of July, and $308 as rent for the months of August, September and October 2013. (Id. ¶ 35.) The court entered a judgment of possession for the SHA in the amount of $3, 703 and Plaintiff was removed from the property pursuant to a warrant of removal. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 41.)

Plaintiff now brings this case asserting four causes of action. In Count One, Plaintiff contends that upon the filing of a request for a financial hardship exemption, the SHA was required under 24 C.F.R. § 5.630 to suspend the rent requirement for a period of ninety days, and its failure to do so constituted a violation of due process. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 45, 46.) Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the SHA's "policy and procedure of filing non-payment of rent complaints after receiving [Plaintiff's] request for hardship exemption, violates the rights of [Plaintiff] under his lease contract with SHA and to due process under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution[, ]" as well as $7, 000, 000 in compensatory damages, costs, and punitive damages. (Id. ¶ 47.) In Count Two, Plaintiff alleges that when the SHA increased his rent in April 2011 and made such increase retroactive to October 2010, without prior notice, the SHA further violated his due process rights. (Id. ¶¶ 54, 55.) In Count Three, Plaintiff contends that on two occasions, he requested a financial hardship exemption and, in retaliation, the SHA initiated complaints for non-payment of rent in purported violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1437, 42 U.S.C. § 1986, Plaintiff's right to due process of law, and New Jersey state law. (Id. ¶¶ 57, 58.) Finally, in Count Four, Plaintiff avers that when his rent was increased in June 2013, Defendants Dickerson and Loyle received a written objection from Plaintiff and should have provided him with an informal hearing. (Id. ¶ 64.) Their failure to commence a hearing purportedly precluded them, under 24 C.F.R. § 966.58, from filing an eviction action, thus violating Plaintiff's due process rights. (Id.)

II. JURISDICTION

Because Plaintiff asserts claims for a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction ...


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