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[Price v. RHA] U.S. District Court, Western District of NY Holds Constitutional Due Process requires Notice of Right to Reasonable Accommodation (2006)

  • Organization: WDNY
  • Document Type: Case law/admin decisions
  • Date Created: Friday, September 29, 2006
  • Submitted: Wednesday, October 04, 2006
  • Attachment(s): PDF

Click here for the decision.

From: Mike Hanley

Sent: Wednesday, October 04, 2006 11:37 AM

Subject: Price v. RHA: Constitutional Due Process requires Notice of Right to Reasonable Accommodation

In an decision granting partial summary judgment in Price v. Rochester Housing Authority, (No. 04-CV-6301P, 2006, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71902 (WDNY, Sept. 29, 2006), Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson critically analyzed the constitutional due process requirements applicable to a housing authority's termination of the rent subsidy of a disabled participant in the federal Shelter Plus Care program. In Price, the housing authority terminated a disabled participant from the program based upon the fact that, years earlier, she had been terminated from the separate Section 8 program (also administered by the housing authority) because she had violated a "family obligation" of that program. Specifically, she had failed to advise the housing authority when she changed residences. Two years later, and within days of admitting her to the Shelter Plus Care program, the housing authority terminated her Shelter Plus Care subsidy saying that she had been ineligible based upon her earlier termination from the Section 8 program.

Ms. Price, with the help of the Jane Yoon at Monroe County Legal Assistance Center, asked for "reasonable accommodation" in the form of an alteration of the housing authority's admissions policies so that she would not be categorically barred from the program because of the termination from the other program. She argued that the Section 8 program violation had been the result of her disability, namely her substance addiction, and that since she was now being admitted to the Shelter Plus Care program based upon that disability and her recovery, it made no sense to apply the general program rule which would bar her from the program. At the administrative hearing the housing authority denied her request for the reasonable accommodation. Thereafter plaintiff filed the federal action in the Western District of New York challenging this denial and, in addition, arguing that the housing authority had failed to adopt a separate administrative plan for the Shelter Plus Care program as required by the federal statute and implementing regulations.

After the suit was filed by MCLAC and the Empire Justice Center, the parties negotiated a separate Administrative Plan for the Shelter Plus Care program that included notices and procedures for advising participants at several points in the admissions and occupancy process regarding their right to request a reasonable accommodation of a disability. The housing authority balked, however, when asked to include specific information regarding the right to request a reasonable accommodation in the termination notices themselves. Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on that issue, with the remaining procedural issues having been resolved, and only that issue and the question of damages remaining.

Judge Payson's 18 page decision thoughtfully sets out the Supreme Court's Mathews considerations for balancing the interests that must be looked at in determining whether constitutional due process would require that a housing authority specifically advise participants in a program designed for persons with disabilities of their right to request a reasonable accommodation. Although the housing authority assured that court in its papers and at oral argument that it now, on its own initiative, takes into account reasonable accommodations issues when considering whether to terminate a Shelter Plus Care participant, the Judge cited the May 17, 2004 HUD/DOJ guidance on reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act to note that the only way to assure that participants would be able to be afforded the "interactive process" described in that guidance would be to tell them specifically at this critical point that such an accommodation could be requested. The burden of including this information in the termination notice, the court concluded, would be de minimis, whereas the threat that the participant would again become homeless as the result of an improper termination would be substantial.

Ms. Price was represented by Michael L. Hanley and Jonathan Feldman of the Empire Justice Center, and by Robert Vitale (who took over for Jane Yoon) at the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center of Legal Assistance of WNY.

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