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Cooley v. Housing Authority of City of Slidell

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 26, 2014

ROBIN N. COOLEY, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF SLIDELL, Defendant-Appellant

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

For Robin N. Cooley, Plaintiff - Appellee: David Holman Williams, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, New Orleans, LA.

For Housing Authority of The City of Slidell, Defendant - Appellant: Joanne Rinardo, Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles, L.L.P., New Orleans, LA.

Before WIENER, HAYNES, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 296

WIENER, Circuit Judge:

Defendant-Appellant the Housing Authority of the City of Slidell (" SHA" ) appeals the district court's summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff-Appellee Robin N. Cooley. The district court ruled that the SHA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in terminating Cooley's rental assistance benefits under the Housing Choice Voucher Program (" Section 8" ) for failure to attend an annual recertification meeting. In reaching that conclusion, the court found that the SHA had failed to consider the totality of the circumstances, including the facts that Cooley's mother had recently died and that Cooley contacted the SHA immediately after receiving its notice. We affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Cooley received rental assistance from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (" Section 8" ).[1] Section 8 provides federal funds to subsidize the rent of eligible families. State government entities, called public housing agencies, administer Section 8. In 1997, Cooley began receiving assistance in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. In 2009, she transferred her voucher to Slidell's program and signed a " Statement of Family Obligations" acknowledging specific program requirements, including participation in annual recertification hearings. Cooley participated in two such hearings with the SHA, one in May of 2010 and the other in May of 2011.

In March of 2012, Cooley's mother moved into Cooley's Slidell apartment while receiving hospice care and died there on March 29, 2012. Cooley and her children temporarily moved into her mother's former apartment in New Orleans East, approximately 30 miles west of Slidell, to wind up her mother's affairs. Cooley's children continued to attend school near her apartment in Slidell. She did not retrieve her mail until she moved back on April 18, 2012.

Meanwhile, the SHA had mailed a certified letter to Cooley, informing her that her annual recertification hearing would begin at 10:00 a.m. on April 17, 2012. The letter was addressed to Cooley at her home in Slidell, was dated April 9, 2012, and was postmarked April 11, 2012. It stated that Cooley could reschedule the hearing by contacting the SHA within three days after she received the letter. The United States Postal Service attempted to deliver the certified letter on April 12, 2012, and again on April 16, 2012, and on each occasion left a notice of their attempt at Cooley's Slidell home. She picked up that notice when she returned home on April 18, 2012. Because the post office had closed, she was unable to retrieve the letter until the next day, April 19, 2012. Cooley went to the SHA's office that same day, but her caseworker refused to see her without an appointment, instructing her to return during walk-in hours the next day, April 20. Cooley complied. Although the record contains conflicting evidence and testimony concerning the information exchanged between Cooley and the SHA staff during the April 20 meeting, the district court found that, at a minimum, Cooley conveyed to the caseworker that she had failed to attend the

Page 297

recertification hearing because she did not receive the notification letter until after the meeting had taken place.

On April 24, 2012, the SHA notified Cooley that it would terminate her participation in Section 8, effective May 31, 2012, for her failure to attend the recertification hearing and for another unspecified program violation. The letter informed Cooley of her right to appeal the decision by requesting an ...


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