Lee v. Quincy Housing Authority et al
Judge Richard G. Stearns: ORDER entered granting 11 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; granting 13 Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction; granting 15 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Lee's claims against HUD are DISMISSED without prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Lee's claims against the QHA, Crossley, and Highland House are likewise DISMISSED pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). With respect to the claims against the QHA, the dismissal shall operate without prejudice. (RGS, law1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-11631-RGS
QUINCY HOUSING AUTHORITY ET AL.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON
DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS
January 30, 2017
Plaintiff Tanya Lee, acting pro se, brought suit against three categories
of defendant: 1) the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD); 2) the Quincy Housing Authority (QHA) and Carolyn Crossley
(QHA’s Director of Program Management); and 3) Highland House, a
Massachusetts. Each defendant has filed a motion under Rule 12. For the
following reasons, the court grants each defendant’s motion and dismisses
In addressing these motions, the court takes the facts alleged in Lee’s
Complaint as true, and also considers documents — including state court
records and correspondence between Lee and the QHA — that may properly
be considered by the court at the motion to dismiss stage.1
Lee is a
beneficiary of rent assistance through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher
Program (Section 8). Section 8 is a federal program overseen by HUD and
administered locally by public housing authorities like the QHA. While living
in an apartment managed by Highland House in Randolph, Lee paid a
portion of the rent each month, while the QHA paid the remainder as a
Section 8 tenant assistance payment.
In September of 2015, Highland House initiated a summary process
action against Lee in state court, alleging that Lee had failed to pay fully her
portion of the rent. The parties entered into an “Agreement for Judgment”
on September 18, 2015. Under that agreement, Lee agreed to judgment in
favor of Highland House for possession of the apartment and an award of
unpaid rent in the amount of $4,447.50.
Highland House Ex. 2. The
agreement, however, also provided that execution would be stayed in
exchange for Lee’s making $500 monthly payments until satisfaction of the
unpaid rent and prompt payment by Lee of her base rent for the succeeding
six months. Id. The agreement included a clause releasing “any and all
1 At the motion to dismiss stage, a court may consider documents which
are of undisputed authenticity, central to the plaintiff’s claims, official public
records, or sufficiently referred to in the complaint. See Watterson v. Page,
987 F.2d 1, 3-4 (1st Cir. 1993).
claims she/he has or may have had arising out of her/his occupancy of the
premises from the commencement of her/his tenancy to the date of this
This compromise was short-lived. Highland House sought execution
of the judgment in December of 2015, asserting that Lee had failed to comply
with the terms of the agreement. The state court eventually issued an
execution of judgment on January 28, 2016, for an amount totaling
$5,773.81. Highland House Exs. 3, 4. Lee was evicted shortly thereafter.
After leaving Highland House, Lee received a letter from the QHA
warning her that the QHA was considering terminating her Section 8
voucher because she had failed to provide QHA with a copy of her eviction
notice and was in “serious or repeated violation” of her lease terms. See QHA
Ex. D (citing 24 C.F.R. § 982.551(e), (g)). The letter also informed Lee of her
right to a hearing and specified that the hearing would be before defendant
Crossley. Id. Lee subsequently participated in a hearing before Crossley,
after which Crossley invited Lee to submit additional information for
consideration by the QHA in determining whether to terminate her Section
8 voucher. See QHA Ex. E.
Lee asserts that as a result of her eviction, she has been rendered
Compl. ¶ 24.
Lee also asserts that the defendants were
particularly callous in their treatment of her because they knew, or should
have known, that she has a daughter who suffers from Lupus. Compl. ¶ 25.
Read favorably, Lee’s Complaint makes three claims against each of the
defendants: 1) a due process claim relating to the termination of her housing
benefits voucher and eviction; 2) a tort claim for emotional distress; and 3)
The defendants have each moved to dismiss. HUD relies on both Rule
12(b)(1) (lack of subject matter jurisdiction) and Rule 12(b)(6) (failure to
state a claim). Highland House likewise moved under Rule 12(b)(6). The
QHA and Crossley sought judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c).
Judgment on the pleadings, however, is available only “[a]fter the pleadings
are closed,” which includes the filing of an answer. No defendant, including
the QHA and Crossley, has filed an answer, so Rule 12(c) does not apply. The
QHA and Crossley motion will therefore be evaluated under Rule 12(b)(6).
See McGuigan v. Conte, 629 F. Supp. 2d 76, 80 (D. Mass. 2009). Under Rule
12(b)(6), a complaint will be dismissed if it fails to set out sufficient factual
allegations to a suggest a plausible entitlement to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
The court turns first to HUD’s motion. Lee’s claims against HUD are
barred by sovereign immunity. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) requires
that any tort claim against the United States be “presented in writing to the
appropriate federal agency within two years after such claim accrues.” 28
U.S.C. § 2401(b). Because Lee has not presented any claim against HUD, the
FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity does not apply. Moreover, the limited
waiver of sovereign immunity in the Housing Act requires a predicate
showing of a connection to HUD’s functions under that law. 42 U.S.C. §
1404a. Lee’s Complaint, however, does not identify a single act or omission
by HUD. All of the actions identified in her Complaint are attributed to
Highland House, the QHA, or Crossley. Lee argues that HUD had a duty to
her as a third-party beneficiary to a contract, citing Holbrook v. Pitt, 643
F.2d 1261 (7th Cir. 1981). In Holbrook, however, HUD directly administered
the Section 8 program at issue and had a contract with the landlord. Id. at
1266. Here the QHA, not HUD, was responsible for payment of the Section
Lee’s Complaint likewise fails to state a cause of action against the
QHA. Lee asserts a due process claim based on the loss of her rent voucher,
but the Complaint indicates that her voucher has not actually been
terminated. Compl. ¶ 23; QHA Exs. D, E. Moreover, nothing is alleged to
indicate that the QHA played any role in her eviction. Nor is there any basis
for tort claims against the QHA.
Similar to the FTCA, under the
Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA), tort claims must be presented to the
agency-employer prior to their being filed in court. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258,
§ 4. Lee correctly points out that intentional torts are exempted from the
coverage of the MTCA, see id. § 10(c), but that does not advance her cause
against the QHA; there is no waiver of sovereign immunity for intentional
torts. See Barrows v. Wareham Fire Dist., 82 Mass. App. Ct. 623, 626 (2012)
(“[A] public employer cannot be sued for the intentionally tortious conduct
of its employee.”).
The result varies only slightly for Crossley. Any claim for negligent
infliction of emotional distress on her part is barred by the presentment
The MTCA, however, does not shield individual public
employees from liability for intentional torts. See Nelson v. Salem State
Coll., 446 Mass. 525, 537 (2006). This makes little difference, as Crossley is
still protected by common-law immunity from suit. See Najas Realty, LLC
v. Seekonk Water Dist., 821 F.3d 134, 146 (1st Cir. 2016). Under that
immunity, she cannot be liable for an intentional tort if she “acted in good
faith, without malice, and without corruption.” Nelson, 446 Mass. at 537.
Lee puts forth no facts to suggest that Crossley’s actions fell short of this
standard. The only action specifically attributed to Crossley in the Complaint
is the assertion that Crossley demanded $434.58 before allowing Lee’s
request for her file at the QHA. Compl. ¶ 29. That cost reflected the expense
for copying the entire file, and Crossley informed Lee that she was permitted
to inspect the file at the QHA’s offices for free, or to request copies of specific
pages at a per-page rate. QHA Ex. E. No plausible inference of bad faith or
malice can be drawn from the enforcing of an agency’s reasonable rules and
Lee has no viable due process claim against Highland House, a private
actor. See Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982). Lee’s unjust
enrichment claim likewise fails for two reasons. Although she alleges that
Highland House increased her rent without authorization, Compl. ¶¶ 15-16,
she previously released all claims related to her tenancy as part of the
Agreement for Judgment. See Highland House Ex. 2. She likewise offers no
facts to support a claim in the period between the Agreement and when she
vacated the Highland House unit. Second, although Lee suggests that the
QHA and HUD continued to pay money to Highland House on her behalf
after she left her apartment, Compl. ¶ 23, that does not establish that
Highland House unjustly retained money belonging to Lee. See Santagate
v. Tower, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 324, 329 (2005). Finally, although Lee now casts
her allegations against Highland House as sounding in fraud and civil
conspiracy, she alleges no facts that would support either claim.
generally Reisman v. KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 100, 108109 (2003); Kurker v. Hill, 44 Mass. App. Ct. 184, 188-189 (1998).
For the foregoing reasons, Lee’s claims against HUD are DISMISSED
without prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Lee’s claims against the QHA,
Crossley, and Highland House are likewise DISMISSED pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). With respect to the claims against the QHA, the dismissal shall
operate without prejudice. The Clerk is directed to enter the dismissals and
close the case.
/s/ Richard G. Stearns
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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