CIVIL PROCEDURE

Preliminary Injunction • Due Process

Middleton v. Lycoming Housing, PICS Case No. 14-0273 (C.P. Lycoming Feb. 13, 2014) Gray, J. (9 pages).

The Court of Common Pleas for Lycoming County granted a preliminary injunction in a local agency appeal to prevent the housing authority from terminating housing assistance payments to a disabled recipient who had allegedly been charged with a crime.

Middleton was confined to a wheelchair after both of his legs were amputated. He had continuously received and relied upon housing assistance payments under the federal Section 8 housing program to help him pay his rent. Due to his disability, Middleton was unable to engage in substantial gainful employment and received Social Security disability payments of $730 per month.

In April 2013, Lycoming Housing proposed termination of Middleton’s housing assistance payments because criminal charges were pending against him. The decision to terminate his housing assistance was upheld following an informal hearing. A formal hearing later took place and the termination of housing assistance was again upheld. Middleton filed a local agency appeal. A second formal hearing took place by agreement of the parties, which again upheld the termination of Middleton’s housing assistance. Middleton appealed the determination on the second formal hearing and sought a special preliminary injunction preventing Lycoming Housing from cutting off his housing assistance payments while the appeal was pending.

The court held Middleton had satisfied his burden in showing that he would suffer immediate and irreparable harm that could not be compensated by money damages if the injunction were not issued. The loss of federal housing assistance would have meant the loss of his current housing. The harm also implicated constitutional rights as the loss was based upon a determination that relied solely on uncorroborated and objected to hearsay evidence. The housing assistance Middleton received constituted more than half his entire monthly benefits. Without the housing assistance payments, Middleton would not have been able to pay the rent for his wheelchair or his handicapped-accessible housing.

A greater injury would result from denying the preliminary injunction than in granting it. Without the injunction, Middleton would likely have become homeless. However, if an erroneous injunction were issued, Lycoming Housing could potentially recover from any monetary harm it might suffer. Granting the preliminary injunction restored the parties to the status quo.

The court found that Middleton had a strong likelihood of success on the merits. Lycoming Housing failed to produce or rely upon sufficient probative evidence to prove by a preponderance that Middleton was ineligible for Section 8 housing assistance. The only evidence of a violation was a police affidavit. The police officer was not present to testify and was not subject to cross-examination. Middleton objected to the police affidavit as hearsay.

Lycoming Housing also argued that it could rely upon an adverse inference from Middleton’s exercise of his constitutional right not to incriminate himself. The court disagreed. Nothing in the record showed the agency relied upon or drew such an adverse inference. The agency’s decision relied only upon the police affidavit.

Granting the preliminary injunction would allow Middleton to continue to pay his rent in a timely fashion. The court held that granting the injunction would be in the public interest because housing subsidies helped prevent homelessness and transience among the poor. The public interest was served by requiring that some non-hearsay evidence of ineligibility be considered prior to termination of assistance to a low income individual.