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BURRELL v. CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY

August 22, 2005.

WILLIE BURRELL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLANCHE MANNING, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Willie Burrell ("Burrell"), the Dorothy Gautreaux Northeast Scattered Site Local Advisory Council ("Advisory Council"), and the Northeast Scattered Site Resident Management Corporation ("Management Corporation") contend that federal and local authorities have engaged in a longstanding pattern of discrimination in the provision and administration of public housing units in Chicago. Burrell filed a pro se complaint on behalf of all the plaintiffs alleging racial discrimination pursuant to the Federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court appointed counsel for Burrell and subsequently denied counsel's motion to withdraw. The defendants seek to dismiss Burrell's complaint, alleging that he lacks standing or his claims fail on the merits. For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss are granted.

I. Background

  The following facts are deemed true for the purpose of the defendants' motion to dismiss. Burrell is African-American and a resident of the Chicago Housing Authority ("CHA") development known as the Dorothy Gautreaux Northeast Scattered Sites ("DGNESS"). Burrell is the President of the Advisory Council and the Management Corporation. Since 1992, the Management Corporation has repeatedly requested office space from the CHA and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Likewise, since 1995, the Advisory Council has repeatedly asked the CHA and HUD for office space. However, the CHA and HUD have routinely denied these requests. The plaintiffs allege racial discrimination as the reason for the defendants' denial of office space. Moreover, the plaintiffs claim that defendants Housing Resource Center ("HRC"), Jane Adams Hull House Association ("HHA"), Alderman Shiller ("Shiller"), and Alexander Polikoff ("Polikoff") have directed or supported CHA and HUD's allegedly discriminatory denials.

  On June 24, 1995, the Management Corporation held a meeting with HUD Assistant Secretary Joseph Shuldiner to request office space, a memorandum of understanding, and a dual management contract with CHA. Defendant Shiller allegedly stood in front of HUD Secretary Joseph Shuldiner for ten minutes to delay Shuldiner's arrival at the meeting. Moreover, Shiller has allegedly used her office to influence decisions related to the activities and management of the DGNESS.

  Despite the delay, the Management Corporation negotiated a contract to manage the DGNESS. However, HRC and HHA maintenance persons allegedly told DGNESS residents that the Management Corporation intended to discriminate against Hispanic residents. HRC subsequently released a newsletter which, contrary to the Management Corporation's intentions, claimed that the Management Corporation planned to hire a company to manage the DGNESS.

  Defendants CHA, HRC, and HHA have allegedly solicited, processed, and approved tenant applications based on race. In one particular incident, HHA, HRC and CHA allegedly discarded approximately 4600 tenancy applications filed primarily by African-Americans. The defendants have failed to inform African-American residents of their rights to transfer to a Scattered Site unit, in opposition to the Gautreaux Tenant Assignment Plan Addendum approved on July 12, 1989. Since 1994, HRC and HHA have allegedly labored to prevent African-American residents from transferring into the DGNESS, leaving African-American residents in areas of high crime and poverty. Moreover, HRC has allegedly begun to withdraw maintenance services to public housing units in census tracks primarily occupied by African-American residents.

  The plaintiffs' complaint asserts that the defendants have engaged in racial discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act, committed torts against the plaintiffs, and generally discriminated against African-American residents of public housing.

  II. Discussion

  A. Claims Brought by Plaintiffs Management Corporation and Advisory Council

  Complaints brought by an organization or corporation must be signed by a person representing the parties. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(a). Although individuals may represent themselves pro se, corporations and organizations must be represented by a lawyer. Navin v. Park Ridge Sch. Dist. 64, 270 F.3d 1147, 1149 (7th Cir. 2001) (a non-lawyer cannot prosecute a suit on behalf of another); Scandia Down Corp. v. Euroquilt, Inc., 772 F.2d 1423, 1427 (7th Cir. 1985) ("A `corporation' is an abstraction, and abstractions cannot appear pro se").

  Here, Burrell has signed the complaint on behalf of all three plaintiffs, two of whom are organizations. Burrell may pursue a claim on his own behalf, but he is not an attorney and thus may not pursue claims on behalf of the remaining plaintiffs. Therefore, the court must either appoint council for plaintiffs Advisory Council and Management Corporation or dismiss their claims.

  Civil litigants do not have a right, either constitutional or statutory, to counsel. Zarnes v. Rhodes, 64 F.3d 285, 288 (7th Cir. 1995). The court may nevertheless, in the exercise of its discretion, request counsel to represent indigents in appropriate cases. Id. A litigant who seeks appointment of counsel must first, as a threshold matter, make a reasonable attempt to secure private counsel. Id. If a litigant satisfies this burden, the court should consider the following nonexhaustive list of factors: "(1) the merits of the plaintiff's claims; (2) whether the plaintiff can investigate crucial facts; (3) whether trained counsel will better expose the truth; (4) the plaintiff's ability to present the case; and (5) the complexity of the relevant legal issues." Id. In essence, this inquiry boils down to the simple question, "given the difficulty of the case, [does] the plaintiff appear to be competent to try it himself and, if not, would the presence of counsel [make] a difference in the outcome?" Id.

  As organizations without representation, plaintiffs Advisory Council and Management Corporation are incapable of trying this case. Nevertheless, the court believes that appointing counsel will not affect the disposition of the claims brought by the organizational plaintiffs. The Management Corporation asserts that it has a right to training, office space, and rental management opportunities, while the Advisory Council seeks the right to participate in meetings with the CHA and enter into an agreement with the CHA regarding relocation and other issues concerning the CHA Plan for Transformation, which is grounded in the CHA Relocation Rights Contract. In support of its claims, the Management Corporation directs the court's attention to 24 C.F.R. § 964.15, which provides that:
It is HUD's policy to encourage resident management. HUD encourages HAs, resident councils and resident management corporations to explore the various functions involved in management to identify appropriate opportunities for contracting with a resident management corporation. Potential benefits of resident-managed entities include improved quality of life, experiencing the dignity of meaningful work, enabling residents to choose where they want to live, and meaningful participation in the management of the housing development.
  The Supreme Court, however, has held that a regulation only creates an enforceable right if its language unambiguously confers a specific, enforceable right upon its beneficiaries. See Suter v. Artist M., 503 U.S. 347, 362-63 (1992). Section 964.15 expresses HUD's policy of encouraging resident management, but does not create a right for the Management Corporation to control any aspects of resident management. Any claim based on the policy statement in § 964.15 must, therefore, fail. See Perry v. Housing Authority of the City of Charleston, 664 F.2d 1210, 1217 (4th Cir. 1981) (policy statements do not create legally cognizable rights to tenants of programs funded under the housing statutes).

  With respect to the Advisory Council's claims, the CHA Relocation Rights Contract runs between the CHA and CHA leaseholders and only applies when leaseholders face relocation. The Advisory Council is obviously not a leaseholder who is facing relocation so it does not have standing to raise claims arising under the CHA Relocation Rights Contract.

  In addition, the Advisory Council has offices at 4429 North Clifford. Burrell contends that the defendants were obligated to provide the Advisory Council with additional office space on the second floor of 4429 South Clifford. In support, Burrell directs the court's attention to a HUD policy that encourages but does not require housing authorities to provide office space to a duly recognized resident council. See 24 C.F.R. 964.18 ("If requested, a Housing Authority should provide a duly recognized Resident Council office space and meeting facilities. . . ."). The Advisory Council is not a resident council, so even if the policy was mandatory, it would still be inapplicable.

  Accordingly, regardless of whether the Management Corporation and the Advisory Council have counsel, therefore, they would either be unable to state a claim or lack standing. Accordingly, the court declines to appoint counsel for them and dismisses their claims with prejudice.

  B. Claims Against HUD

  HUD contends that the court lacks jurisdiction over the claims against it under the Fair Housing Act and 28 U.S.C. ...


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