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Young v. Hagar-Mace

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 14, 2017




         This case arises out of Plaintiff's termination from a housing voucher program. Pro se Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit after the Court granted his motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 1). After the Court denied Plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Refiling (Doc. 23), which the Court construed as an amended complaint (Doc. 25).

         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 32) and Plaintiff's response (Doc. 33). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

         Background [1]

         Plaintiff is a homeless, African-American man who suffers from mental and physical disabilities. Defendant Liz Hagar-Mace is the housing director at the Missouri Department of Mental Health (“DMH”), and Amy Copeland (“Copeland”) is an affordable housing consultant at the DMH, administering the Shelter Plus Care (“SPC”) program.

         In September 2014, the DMH approved Plaintiff to be a participant in its SPC program. SPC is a tenant-based rental housing assistance voucher program operated for the benefit of homeless persons who are disabled by serious mental illness, substance abuse issues, or other disabilities. To be eligible for the SPC program, applicants must have a recognized disability, have very low income, and meet the HUD definition of homeless. As such, all SPC participants are disabled. Additionally, Defendants state 70-75% of SPC program participants are African-American. SPC offers two types of vouchers, one-time and month-to-month.

         In order to receive an SPC housing voucher, a recipient must be referred to DMH by an independent agency. SPC program guidelines require the independent agency to assign a case manager to the SPC participant who monitors the participant's compliance with the program. Participants are responsible for finding their own rental housing, but then the SPC program pays a portion of the participant's rent, between 70 and 100%. As part of the SPC terms, participants agree to abide by the terms of their lease and other household obligations.

         In this case, Tri-County Mental Health Services referred Plaintiff to the SPC program. On September 23, 2014, he was granted an initial one-time housing voucher for thirty-days. Plaintiff signed documents describing the SPC program's rules and obligations, and his rights under the program. Plaintiff subsequently located housing, and on October 24, 2014, signed a one-year lease.

         Throughout Plaintiff's lease, management for the rental complex where Plaintiff was living complained to DMH about Plaintiff, claiming he violated the terms of his lease and his SPC household obligations, including cutting Google Fiber wires, not letting service people access the apartment, and threatening to change the locks on the apartment. During the lease, Plaintiff complained about the conditions of his apartment, including finding bugs in the apartment and his belief that the water was poisoned. Management for the apartment complex decided not to renew Plaintiff's lease, however it permitted him to remain in the same apartment on a month-to-month basis.

         On August 21, 2015, DMH sent Plaintiff a letter notifying him that he was out of compliance with the requirements of the SPC program, that his SPC benefits were in jeopardy of being terminated, and informing him of a hearing set to discuss his SPC housing benefits.

         The voucher hearing was held on September 3, 2015. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with his case manager from Tri-County Mental Health Services. Copeland was also present at the hearing and discussed the reasons Plaintiff was being terminated from the SPC program. Plaintiff responded that he believed he was being discriminated against and denied his civil rights. Plaintiff also states Copeland “made a racial reply” to him. (Doc. 23 at 4).

         On October 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) against DMH. In this complaint he alleged DMH terminated him from the SPC program because of his race and disability. While Plaintiff's housing voucher was supposed to terminate in October 2015, DMH continued to provide SPC housing assistance while MCHR investigated Plaintiff's complaint.

         On January 6, 2016, SPC granted Plaintiff a one-time housing voucher to assist Plaintiff with moving to a new apartment. This voucher was valid for thirty-days and expired on February 5, 2016. One-time vouchers are granted only for extenuating circumstances such as hospitalization. Plaintiff did not use his one-time voucher and it expired. On February 5, 2016, Plaintiff's case manager requested an extension the housing voucher but DMH declined because it did not find an extenuating circumstance.

         On February 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed a second discrimination complaint with MCHR against DMH stemming from the denial of the extension of his one-time voucher. Plaintiff again alleged DMH discriminated against him based on his race and disability. He also alleged the denial was in retaliation for his first complaint with MCHR. MCHR completed its investigation determining it “was unable to conclude ...

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