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Tolliver v. Housing Authority of County of Cook

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

May 19, 2017

CHERRISH TOLLIVER, Petitioner-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 CH 8365 Honorable Sophia H. Hall Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE HALL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Gordon and Justice Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          HALL JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Petitioner Cherrish Tolliver appeals from a judgment of the circuit court affirming a decision of the respondent the Housing Authority of the County of Cook (HACC) terminating her federally subsidized housing voucher she was receiving pursuant to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV Program). For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand with directions.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Petitioner became a participant in the HCV Program in 2007. The program is a federally-funded one in which the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides rent subsidies to eligible families to assist them in renting privately owned housing. See 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o) (Supp. IV 2006); 24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a)(1) (2006); Khan v. Bland, 630 F.3d 519, 523-25 (7th Cir. 2010). The program is governed by the Code of Federal Regulations (Federal Code) (24 C.F.R. § 982.1 et seq. (2006)) and is administered on the local level by governmental entities referred to as public housing agencies or PHA's (24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a) (2006)), such as the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA).[1] Under the HCV Program, petitioner's landlord received a voucher from the HACC to subsidize a portion of her rent for a house located at 13841 Kanawha Avenue, Dolton, Illinois. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.451 (2006). As one of the conditions for participating in the HCV Program, petitioner agreed to report in writing within 30 days when there was an increase in her household income.

         ¶ 4 In October 2012, the HACC alleged that the petitioner violated this condition. In a letter dated October 16, 2012, the HACC notified petitioner that it intended to terminate her from the HCV Program effective November 30, 2012, on the ground that she had failed to timely report an increase in household income from her employment with the Diamond Detective Agency.

         ¶ 5 Petitioner appeared pro se and challenged the termination at an informal administrative hearing held before a hearing panel. At the hearing, the HACC maintained that the petitioner had failed to report income she received from the detective agency in 2011 and 2012. Petitioner responded that she regularly informed her caseworker via telephone and fax about her sporadic employment situation with the detective agency and that the caseworker routinely accepted such notification. Petitioner explained that due to intermittent layoffs, her employment with the detective agency was sporadic during the years at issue.

         ¶ 6 On February 19, 2013, a hearing officer with the HACC concluded that the HACC had proven its case by a preponderance of the evidence. The hearing officer issued an order and decision upholding the HACC's decision to terminate petitioner from the HCV Program.

         ¶ 7 On March 27, 2013, petitioner, acting pro se, filed a petition for judicial review by writ of certiorari in the circuit court. In her petition, petitioner claimed that the decision to terminate her from the HCV Program was contrary to the law.

         ¶ 8 On August 23, 2013, counsel from the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis and from Chicago Volunteer Legal Services filed a brief in support of the petitioner's petition. The brief concluded in part that the HACC had "misapplied the statute in using a mandatory standard and not affording the Petitioner the statutorily required discretionary basis for decision. Finally, with the myriad of ways in which [the HACC] could have dealt with any alleged failure of Petitioner to timely report continued income, such as affording Petitioner the opportunity to repay any alleged overpayments, or consideration that Petitioner had never before failed to report any income, or that Petitioner's three children would be adversely affected, the decision to terminate Petitioner was unusually harsh by being contrary to the HACC's and HUD's own Administrative Plan and guidebook."

         ¶ 9 The circuit court agreed with the petitioner's arguments, and on November 15, 2013, remanded the matter to the HACC, directing the housing agency to hold another informal hearing to consider mitigating circumstances. The court determined that the HACC had violated the petitioner's due process rights by terminating her from the HCV Program without considering any mitigating circumstances. The court also held the HACC failed to provide petitioner with notice of termination regarding her unemployment benefits.

         ¶ 10 Upon remand, instead of holding an informal hearing in accordance with the circuit court's order, the HACC sent petitioner another notice of termination, this time notifying her that she was being terminated from the HCV Program for allegedly failing to report that she had returned to work at the detective agency following layoff periods from 2009 through 2012.

         ¶ 11 On August 14, 2014, the HACC held a second informal hearing at which petitioner again challenged her termination from the program. On November 5, 2014, the HACC ...

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