Monday, June 17, 2013

Housing - Sec. 8 - possession of drug paraphernalia is not "drug-related criminal activity"




 The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (Housing Authority) appealed from the September 28, 2012, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which reversed the decision of a hearing officer terminating Sharon Degelman’s housing assistance benefits received pursuant to Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (Act), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1437f, because the hearing officer capriciously disregarded substantial evidence.  The Commonwealth Court affirmed, but on different grounds – because possession of drug paraphernalia is not "drug-related criminal activity." 

 On April 6, 2008, a police officer searched Degelman’s apartment pursuant to a search warrant. The search yielded six empty heroin stamp bags, a rubber tie band, nine cotton balls, two crack pipes, and used hypodermic needles. Degelman pled guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct.

 On May 1, 2008, the Housing Authority issued a notice to Degelman terminating her housing assistance benefits pursuant to 24 C.F.R. §982.553(b)(1)(ii) because she had engaged in drug-related criminal activity in violation of 24 C.F.R. §982.551(l). Degelman requested an informal grievance hearing.
In Romagna v. Housing Authority of Indiana County (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 1648 C.D. 2011, July 13, 2012), not reported in A.3d, 2012 WL 3026386, the court summarized the applicable federal regulations and determined that possession of drug paraphernalia is not “drug-related criminal activity.” In Romagna, the court stated that [t]he Housing Authority’s definition of drug-related criminal activity does not specify that drug paraphernalia is “drug-related.” Nor does it use language broad enough to sweep possession of paraphernalia into the phrase “drug-related criminal activity.” In Romagna v. Housing Authority of Indiana County), the court summarized the applicable federal regulations and determined that possession of drug paraphernalia is not “drug-relate

Here, a dispute exists about the extent of drug paraphernalia found at the property and whether the drug paraphernalia belonged to Degelman or was left behind by intruders. However, under the applicable federal regulations, a “drug-related criminal activity” requires the actual use or possession of a drug, not drug paraphernalia. Thus, a disorderly conduct conviction related to drug paraphernalia being found at the Property provides insufficient cause to terminate Degelman’s housing assistance benefits under 24 C.F.R. §982.553(b)(1)(iii). Given our determination, we need not address the Housing Authority’s contention that the trial court erroneously applied the capricious disregard standard.

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