UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
THE GAINESVILLE HOUSING AUTHORITY,
CIVIL NO. _______________________
The United States of America alleges as follows:
NATURE OF ACTION
1. This action is brought by the United States on behalf of Charles E. O'Steen and Sheila F. O'Steen to enforce the provisions of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq. (the "Fair Housing Act").
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
2. This Court has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1345 and 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o). Venue is proper in this judicial district pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1391(b), because the events giving rise to this action occurred in this judicial district.
3. Defendant the Gainesville Housing Authority (the "GHA") is a participant in the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Public and Indian Housing Program and administers the Section 8 Voucher Program. The GHA is located in Gainesville, Florida.
4. At all times relevant to this Complaint, Defendant Bernadette Woody was the deputy executive director of the GHA. Defendant Bernadette Woody is a resident of Gainesville, Florida.
5. At all times relevant to this Complaint, Defendant Sarah Mozell was employed by the GHA as a Section 8 counselor. Ms. Mozell was the O'Steens' Section 8 intake specialist during their initial application to the Section 8 program and, in July 2001, she was assigned as their Section 8 counselor. Defendant Sarah Mozell is a resident of Ocala, Florida.
6. Defendant Madison Cove of Gainesville, Ltd. ("Madison Cove") is the owner of Madison Cove Apartments, a multifamily apartment complex consisting of 96 units located in Gainesville, Florida ("the subject property"). Madison Cove is a recipient of Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Internal Revenue Service.
7. Defendant Davis Property Management, Inc. ("DPM") is the management company that at all times relevant to the allegations of this complaint managed Madison Cove Apartments. DPM is located in Newberry, Florida.
8. Defendant Fran Foco is the on-site property manager of Madison Cove Apartments and an agent of DPM. Defendant Fran Foco is a resident of Gainesville, Florida.
9. Defendant Paul Foco is the on-site maintenance supervisor of Madison Cove Apartments and an agent of DPM. Defendant Paul Foco is a resident of Gainesville, Florida.
10. Defendants Madison Cove, DPM, Fran Foco, and Paul Foco are responsible for the management and operation of the subject property.
11. The units at the subject property are "dwellings" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b).
12. Charles and Sheila O'Steen are handicapped or disabled within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h). Ms. O'Steen has cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, asthma, diverticular disease, abdominal pain, hypothyroidism, and hematuria, and is required to use and carry oxygen. These conditions substantially limit Ms. O'Steen's ability to walk up stairs, muscular power (strength), coordination and mobility. Mr. O'Steen has arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and a pacemaker. These conditions substantially limit Mr. O'Steen's ability to walk up stairs, muscular power (strength), and coordination and mobility.
13. At all times relevant to this Complaint, the O'Steens were participants in the Section 8 Voucher program administered through the GHA.
14. On or about May 21, 2001, the O'Steens completed an application for an apartment at Madison Cove and submitted it to Ms. Foco. At this time, the O'Steens had recently had their Section 8 file transferred from the Alachua County Housing Authority to the GHA. The file contained documentation verifying that Mr. and Ms. O'Steen were physically disabled. In addition, with their application they submitted a Social Security Supplemental Security Income Benefits Verification form listing both of them as disabled.
15. Prior to submitting their application, the O'Steens explained to Ms. Foco their need for a first floor unit because of their disabilities. At the time, they were informed that there were no first floor two-bedroom units available at Madison Cove, and they accepted a second floor unit at Madison Cove.
16. On or about June 1, 2001, Mr. and Ms. O'Steen executed a one-year lease at Madison Cove for Unit L-203, a second floor, two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.
17. After moving into Madison Cove in July 2001, Mr. O'Steen asked Ms. Foco to transfer him and his wife to a first floor apartment because of their disabilities. Ms. Foco stated that she would move them to a first floor unit once such a unit became available.
18. During the O'Steens' first lease year at the subject property, Mr. and Ms. O'Steen made repeated verbal requests to Mr. and Ms. Foco to be moved to a first floor unit because of their disabilities. These requests were unanswered or denied.
19. During the O'Steens's first lease year at the subject property, Ms. Foco never informed the O'Steens that DPM had specific forms for residents to make reasonable accommodations requests.
20. On or about September 4, 2002, Ms. O'Steen called Ms. Mozell to request a move to a first floor unit because of his and his wife's disabilities. At this time, Ms. Mozell informed the O'Steens that they needed to complete reasonable accommodation forms. Mr. O'Steen retrieved a form from Ms. Foco and submitted a written reasonable accommodation request to move to a first floor two-bedroom unit. This request was supported by medical documentation.
21. On or about September 12, 2002, the O'Steens submitted a second written request for a transfer, also supported by medical documentation.
22. On or about September 26, 2002, the O'Steens submitted a third such request, along with an application to transfer to a first floor two-bedroom apartment. When Mr. O'Steen attempted to submit the new application, he was advised by Ms. Foco that he had to pay a $60.00 application fee. Mr. O'Steen was not informed that he could request a waiver of the application fee as an accommodation. Under the rules governing tax credit properties like Madison Cove, DPM had no authority to impose this requirement.
23. On or about February 4, 2003, the O'Steens submitted a fourth reasonable accommodation request supported by medical documentation.
24. Upon information and belief, Ms. Mozell was informed by Ms. Foco about each of the O'Steens' reasonable accommodation requests.
25. From June 2001 through May 2003, more than 20 first floor two-bedroom units became available, none of which were offered to the O'Steens.
26. On or about February 14, 2003, and again on or about March 10, 2003, Ms. Foco and the O'Steens contacted Ms. Mozell about the O'Steens' reasonable accommodation request. Ms. Mozell told them they could not transfer until their lease expired.
27. On or about April 14, 2003, the O'Steens filed a timely complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability and retaliation or intimidation.
28. After the O'Steens filed their complaint with HUD, DPM offered to transfer the O'Steens to a first floor two-bedroom unit, and the O'Steens accepted this offer. The O'Steens moved to a first floor unit at the subject property on or about May 1, 2003.
29. On or about May 6, 2003, after the O'Steens met with Sarah Mozell at the GHA for their annual recertification, the O'Steens advised Ms. Mozell that DPM had granted their request for a transfer to a first floor two-bedroom unit. Ms. Mozell made the O'Steens wait in the GHA lobby and returned with the deputy executive director of the GHA, Bernadette Woody. Ms. Woody told the O'Steens that they had violated terms for receipt of Section 8 benefits and that they were going to be evicted. She also threatened to serve them with a notice of termination before they could return to their apartment, asserting that the O'Steens knew they could not move without advising the housing authority in advance. Despite these threats, Ms. Woody did not serve the O'Steens with an eviction notice or terminate them from the Section 8 program.
30. The O'Steens were intimidated and felt threatened by Ms. Woody's comments believing they would be evicted and would loose their Section 8 benefits.
31. In responding to the O'Steens numerous accommodation requests, the GHA did not comply with its own reasonable accommodation policy to provide written decisions to the person requesting an accommodation within 30 days, nor did the GHA inform the O'Steens of its grievance procedure.
32. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 3610(a) and (b), the Secretary of HUD conducted and completed an investigation of the complaint, attempted conciliation without success, and prepared a final investigative report. Based upon the information gathered in the investigation, the Secretary, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g)(1), determined that reasonable cause existed to believe that illegal discriminatory housing practices had occurred. Therefore, on October 13, 2005, the Secretary issued a Charge of Discrimination, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g)(2)(A), charging the above named defendants with engaging in discriminatory practices, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f) and 42 U.S.C. § 3617 of the Fair Housing Act.
33. On October 28, 2005, the O'Steens elected to have the claims asserted in HUD's Charge of Discrimination resolved in a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(a).
34. On October 31, 2005, the Chief Administrative Law Judge issued a Notice of Election of Judicial Determination and terminated the administrative proceeding on the O'Steens' complaints.
35. Following this Notice of Election, the Secretary of HUD authorized the Attorney General to commence a civil action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o).
FAIR HOUSING ACT VIOLATIONS
36. Defendants, through the above-referenced actions, have:
37. Defendants Gainesville Housing Authority and Bernadette Woody, through the above-referenced actions, have coerced, intimidated, threatened, or interfered with the O'Steens in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of their having exercised or enjoyed any right granted or protected by the Fair Housing Act, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617.
38. Charles and Sheila O'Steen are "aggrieved persons" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i).
39. As a result of the Defendants' discriminatory conduct, Charles and Sheila O'Steen have suffered and continue to suffer damages.
40. The discriminatory actions of the Defendants were intentional, willful, and taken in disregard of the federally protected rights of Charles and Sheila O'Steen.
WHEREFORE, the United States of America prays for relief as follows:
1. A declaration that the discriminatory conduct of Defendants as set forth above violates the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq.;
2. An injunction against Defendants, their agents, employees, successors, and all other persons in active concert or participation with any of them from discriminating because of disability, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq.; and
3. Awards of monetary damages to Charles and Sheila O'Steen, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 3612(o)(3) and 3613(c)(1).
The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice may require.
ALBERTO R. GONZALES
STEVEN H. ROSENBAUM
Chief, Housing and
Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division
MICHAEL S. MAURER
REBECCA B. BOND, Attorney
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division,
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Northwestern Building, 7th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20530
Phone: (202) 305-2952
Fax: (202) 514-1116