Escalera v. New York City Housing Authority (1970)

Required public housing authorities to provide hearings before evictions from public housing;

Citation: 425 F.2d 953 (2d Cir. 1970)
Court: 2nd Circuit
Date decided: Apr 29, 1970
Longer case name: Pedro ESCALERA and Rose Escalera, on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. NEW YORK HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: New York
Topic(s):Due process, Eviction, and Public housing
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Henry A. Freedman, New York City, Center on Social Welfare Policy & Law, New York City, Lee A. Albert and Harold Edgar, New York City, Richard Kwasnik and Harold Washington, Bronx, N. Y. (Morrisania Legal Services, Bronx, N. Y., of counsel), for plaintiffs-appellants Lockman and Humphrey.
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Case Importance

From Nestor M. Davidson in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”. University of Michigan Press, 2016: “The Court batted aside due process concerns by finding such evictions merely to be the work of a landlord enforcing a lease term on property it owns, rather than the acts of a governmental entity imbued with constitutional significance. Rucker crystallizes dilemmas that have long plagued public housing and the vulnerable residents who make up most of its population. One dilemma is doctrinal and has to do with ambiguities over the public nature of public housing. Housing authorities and HUD often assert legal defenses grounded in the fact that housing authorities are governmental entities. This is most evident in claims of pre-­emption and sovereign immunity, but it also extends to other legal issues. Courts have grappled with whether providing public housing is a governmental function or whether the government is simply acting as a private landlord. This doctrinal puzzle has significant constitutional and practical consequences, and the Court took a decidedly privatized view of public housing in Rucker.” “A related but more fundamental dilemma highlighted by Rucker is that in the nearly 80 years since its inception, public housing has become the housing of last resort in many communities. Public housing often shelters residents with significant personal challenges, and, particularly for large, urban authorities, it can concentrate those residents in places with few opportunities or community resources. Despite this, because so few options exist for the lowest-­income individuals and families, public housing has long had significant waiting lists for even the most severely underfunded developments. Rucker thus involves not only four elderly tenants facing the loss of their homes for activities they were never directly involved in, but also echoes the struggles within housing policy that have left public housing authorities in a position to reach for such dire measures.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)

From the opinion

Appellants are tenants in New York City public housing projects. They brought four suits in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the New York City Housing Authority [hereinafter cited as “HA”] and certain individuals as officers of the HA, in the form of class actions on behalf of themselves and all tenants similarly situated. The complaints invoked jurisdiction under the Civil Rights Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) (1962), and alleged the deprivation of appellants’ right to due process secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and of their rights under the United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (1962). They sought injunctive and declaratory relief against certain alleged practices of the HA, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202 (1962), 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1970), and in two instances (Haywood and Lockman) a money judgment for additional rents which had been paid.

Appellants sought a preliminary injunction by filing an order to show cause. Defendant then moved pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the actions for, inter alia, failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, lack of jurisdiction, lack of substantial federal question, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and because the federal courts should abstain from considering these actions pending a determination by New York state courts in the first instance

After the parties submitted affidavits, argument on the motions was heard before District Judge Sylvester J. Ryan. Thereafter by an opinion of October 31, 1968 (67 Civ. 4236, 4306, 4307, 4414 S. D.N.Y.), and judgment of the next day, Judge Ryan granted defendants’ motion, and dismissed the actions on the merits. We find error in the dismissal of these actions and remand to the district court to consider appellants’ application for preliminary relief and to hold a trial on the merits.

The instant class actions challenge the constitutionality of the procedures used by the HA in three different types of actions: (1) termination of tenancy on the ground of non-desirability; (2) termination of tenancy for violation of HA rules and regulations; and (3) assessment of “additional rent” charges under the HA lease for undesirable acts by tenants. The HA, a corporate governmental agency financed by federal, state and city funds, administers the largest public housing program in the country, housing more than 144,000 families.

The minimum procedural requirements of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment must reflect the balance between the government’s interest in efficient administration and the nature of the individual’s interest being affected by governmental action. We hold only that granting every favorable inference to plaintiffs’ complaints and affidavits, it appears that the HA’s procedures are deficient in several specific aspects. Upon trial, the HA may be able to show great need for expedited procedures, or the plaintiffs may fail to substantiate all of their allegations. Therefore the fashioning of a remedy or a declaratory judgment must await the full trial of these actions.15

Reversed and remanded for consideration of plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary relief and for trial on the merits.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:47
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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