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Huynh v. Housing Authority of County of Santa Clara

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

March 16, 2017

THANH HUYNH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants. Name Title Graduation Year Kate Hours Fees Name Title Graduation Year (JD) Average Hourly Rate' Hours Fees

          ORDER GRANTING ATTORNEY'S FEES RE: DKT. NO. 157

          LUCY H. KOH United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs[1] bring this action against the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara (“HACSC”) and Katherine Harasz, in her official capacity as HACSC's Executive Director (collectively, “Defendants”). Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs. ECF No. 157. The Court held a hearing on this motion on March 16, 2017.

         Having considered the submissions and oral arguments of the parties, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs. The Court awards $712, 500 in attorney's fees and costs, as well as $50, 000 in named Plaintiff incentive awards.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The Section 8 Voucher Program provides monthly housing subsidies to low-income individuals and their families. ECF No. 30 (“SAC”) ¶ 23. Unlike traditional public housing programs, subsidies provided under the Section 8 Program are “not tied to a particular unit in a particular building.” Id. ¶ 24. Instead, voucher holders find a private landlord willing to accept a Section 8 voucher. If the private landlord agrees to rent to the voucher holder, the landlord is paid a monthly subsidy by a local Public Housing Agency (“PHA”), known as the “housing assistance payment.” Id. ¶ 27. The voucher holder pays the remaining balance. Id. ¶ 23.

         Various federal regulations govern how a local PHA may operate its Section 8 Program. Under 24 C.F.R. § 982.503(a), for instance, a “PHA must adopt a payment standard schedule that establishes voucher payment standard amounts for each [market] area in the PHA['s] jurisdiction.” 24 C.F.R. § 982.503(a). These voucher payment standards are based on the fair market value of rental units and “are used to calculate the monthly housing assistance payment for a family.” Id. According to Plaintiffs, Santa Clara County voucher holders were generally responsible “for paying a [monthly] rental amount equal to 30% of their income, ” although the exact percentage varied. SAC ¶ 25. Likewise, 24 C.F.R. § 982.402(a) provides that a PHA “must establish subsidy standards that determine the number of bedrooms needed for families of different sizes and compositions.” 24 C.F.R. § 982.402(a). “For each family, the PHA determines the appropriate number of bedrooms under the PHA subsidy standards.” Id. Each voucher holder is “allocated a specific number of bedrooms . . . based on their family size and composition.” SAC ¶ 26. Although “a family [may] choose[] to live in a unit with more bedrooms than the family is allocated under the [subsidy] standard, ” the subsidy standard establishes “the maximum amount [of] housing assistance” that a voucher holder may receive. Id. Finally, 24 C.F.R. § 982.54(a) requires PHAs to “adopt a written administrative plan that establishes local policies for administration of the program in accordance with HUD requirements.” 24 C.F.R. § 982.54(a).

         Given the complex interplay between these regulations, the Court takes a moment to review them in additional detail. Family size and composition determine the number of bedrooms that a voucher holder is allocated, which in turn determines the voucher holder's subsidy standard. The subsidy standard is tied to a payment standard schedule, which is set by the market value for rental units within a particular area. By way of example, HACSC will “pay no more than $1628.00 towards a 2-bedroom unit.” SAC ¶ 25. A Santa Clara County voucher holder allocated a two-bedroom unit would therefore receive a maximum subsidy of $1628. The voucher holder may decide to rent a three-bedroom unit, but will not receive any more than $1628, unless the market value for a two-bedroom unit changes.

         Defendant HACSC is the PHA responsible for administering the Section 8 Program in Santa Clara County. Id. ¶ 17. As Executive Director, Katherine Harasz (“Harasz”) is responsible for “carrying out the duties outlined in the [HACSC's] Administrative Plan and the regulations promulgated by [HUD].” Id. ¶ 16.

         In early 2013, “the federal government imposed an $85 billion across-the-board cut in discretionary federal spending.” Def. Mot. at 5. Known as “sequestration” or the “sequester, ” this reduction “resulted in an approximately $2 billion decrease to HUD's housing support programs, including $21 million in funding for HACSC's Voucher Program.” Id. In order to address this decrease in funding, HACSC made significant revisions to its administration of the Section 8 Program on March 1, 2013. SAC ¶ 28.

         Two such changes are relevant to the instant action. First, prior to March 1, 2013, “children of the opposite sex (unless they were very, very young children) and persons from different generations (parents, grandparents, children) were not required to share a room.” Id. ¶ 29. After March 1, 2013, “the head of household (with spouse, co-head, Registered Domestic Partner, or boyfriend/girlfriend if any) [were assigned] one room and an additional bedroom [was assigned] for every two persons regardless of age or gender.” Id. Second, “[t]he revised calculations increased each participant's total tenant payment from 30% to 35% of their gross monthly income or $50 a month, whichever [was] higher.” Def. Mot. at 5-6.

         These changes resulted in many voucher holders receiving a smaller bedroom allocation and a smaller subsidy. SAC ¶ 31. Subsequent to these changes, each named Plaintiff submitted a reasonable accommodation request for an additional bedroom based on at least one family member having a documented disability. Id. ¶ 3. HACSC denied these requests.

         B. Procedural History

         On April 14, 2014, Huynh filed the original complaint in this case in Santa Clara County Superior Court. ECF No. 1-1 (“Compl.”). Defendants removed this case to federal court on May 22, 2014. ECF No. 1. On May 29, 2014, Defendants moved to dismiss the original complaint. ECF No. 8 (“Mot. to Dismiss”). The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss on September 2, 2014, ECF No. 14 (“MTD Order”), and Huynh subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 18 (“FAC”). On January 7, 2015, the Court granted Huynh's request to file a Second Amended Complaint, and on January 12, 2015, Huynh-now joined by the rest of the named Plaintiffs-filed the SAC. Defendants answered the SAC on February 6, 2015. ECF No. 31.

         The SAC contains five substantive causes of action, based on violations of (1) the Fair Housing Amendments Act, (2) the Fair Employment and Housing Act, (3) the California Disabled Persons Act, (4) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and (5) the Americans with Disabilities Act. The SAC also includes a sixth cause of action for declaratory relief.

         On September 17, 2015, Plaintiffs moved for class certification pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3). After holding a hearing on Plaintiffs' motion, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion on November 12, 2015. ECF No. 67 (“Class Cert. Order”). Specifically, the Court certified the following Class:

Santa Clara County Section 8 voucher holders who have disabilities and/or have family members with disabilities who (1) made a reasonable accommodation request to HACSC for an additional bedroom after July 1, 2013, (2) had a documented and undisputed need for a separate bedroom, (3) were denied a disability-related increase in the number of bedrooms by HACSC, (4) were not previously granted a permanent reasonable accommodation request, (5) did not request the additional bedroom for a live-in caregiver or for storage of medical equipment, and (6) have at least one family member who is not disabled.

Id. at 23. In addition, the Court appointed Thanh Huynh, Venus Benabides, Rudy Garcia, Lynda Gomes, Nicholas Wallace, Lillie Ware, Stephen Jones, Dehab Haile, and Freihiwet Tesfamariam as Class Representatives and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley as Class Counsel. Id.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(c)(2), the parties filed a proposed Notice and Opt Out Form for the Court's review on April 1, 2016. ECF No. 90; Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2) (requiring parties to send “the best notice that is practicable under the circumstances . . . [f]or any class certified under Rule 23(b)(3)”). The Court made suggested amendments to these documents, which the parties adopted in full on April 6, 2016. ECF No. 93. The Court approved the amended Notice and Opt Out Form on April 6, 2016, which included an opt out deadline of May 5, 2016. ECF No. 95; see Torrisi v. Tuscon Elec. Power Co., 8 F.3d 1370, 1374 (9th Cir. 1993) (approving opt out deadline of less than one month after notice). There have been three opt outs from the class.

         On November 25, 2015, Defendants filed before the Ninth Circuit a petition for permission to appeal the Court's class certification order. ECF No. 71. The Ninth Circuit denied this petition on April 6, 2016. ECF No. 96.

         On March 10, 2016, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 79 (“Def. Mot.”); ECF No. 80 (“Pls. Mot.”). On May 10, 2016, the Court issued an order which included three questions for the parties to address at the May 12, 2016 hearing on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 101. In addition, the Court requested the parties to file a response to a fourth question. ECF No. 101 at 1. The parties ...


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