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Finch v. Housing Authority of Cook County

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 19, 2018



          John Robert Blakey United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Adana Finch, Ramon Finch, [1] and Coya Shorter, acting pro se, sued the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) and several of its employees, alleging disability discrimination in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, retaliation, and a denial of procedural due process. Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the reasons explained below, this Court grants the motion.

         I. The Complaint's Allegations

         Adana and her two children, Ramon and Shorter, previously lived in a three-bedroom apartment through a Section 8 housing voucher from the HACC. [34] at 8. This living arrangement allowed each person to have their own bedroom. Id. The exact timing remains unclear, but at some point in 2017 the HACC told Plaintiffs that they were no longer eligible to continue receiving a three-bedroom voucher due to a decrease in funding. Id. Accordingly, the HACC switched Plaintiffs from a three-bedroom voucher to a two-bedroom voucher, meaning that Plaintiffs would have to move to a two-bedroom unit when their lease expired. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that the HACC did not apply its new voucher restrictions equally to all families, but rather targeted Plaintiffs for downsizing. [42] at 2, 6.[2]Specifically, Plaintiffs point to the situation of two other families living nearby: the Watson family and the Williams family. Id. The Watsons are a family of three, including one female adult, one minor female child, and one adult male with a learning disability; they live in a three-bedroom unit. Id. The Williams family, consisting of one female adult and one minor female child, resides in a two-bedroom unit. Id. The HACC allowed these families to remain in their current units after the policy change even though, Plaintiffs say, consistently applying the new policy would have required each family to receive vouchers for smaller units. Id.

         In response to the new voucher policy, Adana requested a “reasonable accommodation” in May 2017. [34] at 8. Adana asked the HACC to continue providing her family with a three-bedroom housing voucher to accommodate Ramon and Shorter's disabilities. Id. Ramon suffers from asthma and has Autism Spectrum Disorder. [1] at 15.[3] Plaintiffs initially alleged Shorter's disability as generally affecting her emotional and learning abilities, id. at 5, but allege in their response that Shorter was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder-which impairs her ability to care for herself-at some point after Plaintiffs moved to their current home in August 2017, [42] at 2. Adana presented medical documents in support of her request for a three-bedroom voucher to Defendant Jackie Hodges, who works as a disability coordinator for the HACC. Id. Hodges denied Adana's request in May 2017. Id.

         In June 2017, Plaintiffs appealed Hodges' denial. [34] at 9. Defendant Candice Grimes, a paralegal for the HACC, denied Plaintiffs' appeal. Id. Plaintiffs filed another appeal to Grimes later in June; Grimes rejected that appeal without a hearing. Id.

         In August 2017, Plaintiffs received a letter from Defendant Jon Duncan, the HACC's general counsel, advising them of their right to seek judicial review of the denial of accommodation within 35 days of the letter's date. Id. Plaintiffs do not specify when they received the letter-only that it came “too late to file the writ.” [1] at 2. The letter's arrival was delayed because it was addressed to the wrong unit in Plaintiffs' building. [34] at 9. Plaintiffs allege that Duncan intentionally mailed the letter to the wrong address hoping they would never receive the letter and thus deprived them of the right to seek judicial review. Id. Adana believes that Duncan sent the letter to the wrong address in retaliation for claims she previously filed against the Housing Authority of Elgin and its employees. Duncan shares a last name with an employee (or former employee) of the Elgin Housing Authority, but Plaintiffs do not allege any other connection between the organizations. Id.

         In August 2017, Defendant LaTrice Gamble, a move specialist at the HACC, denied Plaintiffs' request to move into their new unit early a few days early. Id. at 9-10. Plaintiffs allege that this denial forced them to stay in a hotel for several days and cost them $600 in expenses, including spoiled food. [42] at 5. Plaintiffs further allege that their HACC caseworker, Defendant Cassy Williams, generally treated them unkindly and did not help them. [34] at 10.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim” showing that the pleader merits relief, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), so the defendant has “fair notice” of the claim “and the grounds upon which it rests, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint must also contain “sufficient factual matter” to state a facially plausible claim to relief-one that “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference” that the defendant committed the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). This plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility” that a defendant acted unlawfully. Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2013).

         In evaluating a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, this Court accepts all well-pled allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. This Court does not, however, accept legal conclusions as true. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). On a motion to dismiss, this Court may consider the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents central to the complaint and to which the complaint refers, and information properly subject to judicial notice. Williamson, 714 F.3d at 436.

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiffs claim that Defendants unlawfully discriminated against them in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by denying their request for a three-bedroom voucher. Plaintiffs also claim that the HACC's denial of a three-bedroom voucher constituted retaliation against Adana for her previous case against the Elgin Housing Authority. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that Duncan intentionally violated ...

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