Galia Binder Apr. 7, 2014, 6:05pm

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has upheld a district court’s ruling in favor of a Slidell resident who lost her Section 8 housing voucher because she failed to attend a re-certification proceeding.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the Slidell Housing Authority (SHA) acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by taking away Robin N. Cooley’s rental assistance benefits under the Housing Choice Voucher Section 8 program, after she allegedly did not attend an annual recertification meeting. The court found that SHA had not considered the events that caused Cooley to miss the meeting.

Cooley, a Section 8 Housing participant since 1997, transferred her voucher from Jefferson Parish to Slidell’s program in 2009. Cooley signed a “Statement of Family Obligations” requirement detailing mandatory participation in annual recertification hearings.  She attended hearings in May 2010 and 2011, and missed the 2012 hearing in question.

Cooley’s mother, who was receiving hospice care in her apartment, died on March 29, 2012. Cooley and her children temporarily moved into her mother’s former apartment in New Orleans East to wrap up the deceased’s affairs and did not return to Slidell until April 18. The SHA sent a letter to Cooley’s Slidell property informing her that the hearing would begin April 17, which the Post Office attempted to deliver on April 12 and 16. Cooley received the notices and immediately scheduled an appointment with her SHA caseworker to convey the reason for the missed meeting.

On April 24, the SHA sent Cooley a letter terminating her housing and informing her of the right to appeal by hearing.  Cooley’s termination decision was upheld by the SHA during its May 15 hearing and on Sept. 26, Cooley filed suit in district court.

The Fifth Circuit held that Cooley followed SHA protocol by contacting the organization within three days of receipt of the letter, as only notices concerning the letter, rather than the letter itself, were delivered on April 12 and 16. Cooley did not physically receive the letter until April 19th (the post office was closed on the 18th), and replied in a timely manner, the court ruled.

Case No. 13-30797.

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