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Hall v. Housing Authority of County of Marin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 18, 2013

JACQUELYN HALL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE COUNTY OF MARIN, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION TO COMPEL (Dkt. No. 33)

JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY, Magistrate Judge.

In this putative class action brought under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, Plaintiffs contend Defendant Marin Housing Authority violated the U.S. Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 1437 et seq., based on an alleged pattern and practice of conduct related to the allocation of rent payments, among other things. Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Production of Documents and to Reschedule Motion for Class Certification (Dkt. No. 33). The discovery dispute was referred by Judge Seeborg to the undersigned for decision. After carefully considering the parties' written submissions, and having had the benefit of vigorous oral argument on October 17, 2013, the Court grants in part Plaintiffs' motion to compel as the documents Plaintiffs seek are relevant and discoverable.

FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Jacquelyn Hall, Ariana Martinez, Karla Fernandez, Chavon White, and Esther Williams ("Plaintiffs") sue Defendant Marin Housing Authority ("MHA" or "Defendant") seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for alleged violations of the U.S. Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 1437 et seq. Each plaintiff is a tenant of MHA. MHA is a Public Housing Authority established by the California legislature and operating under the U.S. Housing Act. "For those eligible for public housing under the Act, the amount that tenants pay for rent is calculated as a percentage of their income, and Public Housing Authorities are permitted to seek eviction on 14 days' notice in Unlawful Detainer actions only for nonpayment of this calculated amount of rent." (Dkt. No. 25 at 3) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1437a (1)(A), (B), and (c); 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(1)(3)).

Plaintiffs seek "broad injunctive and declaratory relief to enforce federal civil rights on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated." (Dkt. No. 18 at 5.) They allege that Defendant has engaged in the following practices in violation of Plaintiffs' civil rights:

1. Allocating rent payments to a variety of other charges, causing what MHA contends is a rent shortfall, permitting both late charges and, after sufficient time, eviction;
2. Failing to credit rent payments at all, by virtue of failure to create a functioning accounting system;
3. Failing [to] provide meaningful grievance process, while proceeding to eviction on 14 day notices based on the claims which are the subject of the grievance;
4. Improperly re-calculating rent, or making the calculations late, then assessing improper "back rent" charges when such retroactive charges are improper. In instances when a decrease in rent is due, MHA fails to apply the required credit for the decrease during the delay period;
5. Improperly calculating the amounts demanded on 14 day eviction notices, based on the errors described above;
6. Assessing legal fees in settlements despite having no attorneys' fees clause in the lease, and when MHA had not prevailed in court, as is required by the act.

(Dkt. No. 40 at 4.)

Although the parties initially attempted to resolve the case through settlement, these attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. As a result of their settlement efforts, discovery was delayed such that Plaintiffs now seek discovery for purposes of their class certification motion which was originally due to be filed August 16, 2013. In particular, Plaintiffs seek (1) the production of 200 randomly selected tenant files and corresponding transaction registers, and (2) files of the 40 tenants identified by MHA in its Legal Charges Report as having paid legal charges between 2008 and the filing of suit on September 20, 2012.

Defendant has responded in part (providing over 7, 000 pages of documents between July and August); however, Defendant objects to providing any additional documents in response to Plaintiffs' First Request for the Production of Documents Numbers One, Two, and Ten, which largely request of tenant files containing what Defendant characterizes as highly sensitive information, on the grounds that the ...


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