Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Duluth, Minnesota Gwen Updegraff, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, Duluth, Minnesota (for relator).
Joseph J. Mihalek, Eric S. Johnson, Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick, P.A., Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent).
Considered and decided by Kirk, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.
In this certiorari appeal from the decision of a hearing officer for the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), relator-tenant Joclyne Thompson challenges the termination of her section 8 housing assistance for failure to attend monthly income-recertification meetings, arguing that (1) the hearing officer acted arbitrarily, (2) the rule requiring her to appear in person every month is unreasonable, and (3) HRA lacked authority to terminate her housing subsidy for failure to attend scheduled appointments. We affirm.
HRA is the public housing agency that administers section 8 funds within the city of Duluth. In August 2012, Thompson applied to HRA to transfer her section 8 voucher from another city to Duluth, certifying in the process that she had no income. HRA approved Thompson's application and issued a voucher, subject to HRA's rule that benefit recipients claiming zero income must appear in person each month to recertify their zero-income status. Over the next few months, Thompson repeatedly failed to appear at monthly recertification meetings, requested numerous schedule changes, failed to appear at rescheduled meetings, and attempted to recertify by mail.
On November 16, 2012, Thompson appeared in person after HRA notified her that it planned to terminate her benefits and that a hearing had been scheduled for that date. HRA permitted Thompson to resolve the pending termination by signing zero-income certification forms for the outstanding months and reminded her that she would have to appear in person each month thereafter. After Thompson missed subsequent appointments, including one scheduled on a date Thompson chose, HRA notified her that her benefits would be terminated. HRA scheduled a hearing for January 24, 2013, and Thompson appeared in person for that hearing. After testimony from Thompson and an HRA representative, the hearing officer affirmed HRA's decision to terminate Thompson's benefits. Thompson appealed by writ of certiorari.
A housing authority acts in a quasi-judicial capacity when it takes evidence and hears testimony. Cole v. Metro. Council HRA, 686 N.W.2d 334, 336 (Minn.App. 2004). "An agency's quasi-judicial determinations will be upheld unless they are unconstitutional, outside the agency's jurisdiction, procedurally defective, based on an erroneous legal theory, unsupported by substantial evidence, or arbitrary and capricious." Id. (quotation omitted).
I. The hearing officer's decision was not arbitrary.
Thompson first argues that the hearing officer's decision was arbitrary because she did not consider whether Thompson was culpable for failing to attend appointments. "[A]n agency ruling is arbitrary and capricious if the agency . . . entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem." Citizens Advocating Responsible Dev. v. Kandiyohi Cnty. Bd. Of Comm'rs, 713 N.W.2d 817, 832 (Minn. 2006).
Culpability may fairly be considered an important aspect of the problem in this case because HRA's administrative plan requires HRA to consider culpability before terminating benefits. But Thompson's argument fails because the record shows that the hearing officer did consider culpability. Thompson testified about her difficulties at the January 24 hearing, and the hearing officer noted her testimony before upholding the termination decision. The hearing officer did not explicitly find Thompson culpable but her report shows that she inferred Thompson's culpability. We defer to the hearing officer as to that inference. See In re Excess Surplus Status of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minn., 624 N.W.2d 264, 278 (Minn. 2001) (appellate courts "defer to an agency's conclusions regarding conflicts in testimony . . . and the inferences to be drawn from testimony"). The hearing officer's decision may also have been based on her assessment of Thompson's ...