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HUD Regulations Don't Justify Terminating Lifetime Sex Offender Registrant from Federally-Appointed Housing Program

Richard Miller was convicted of a Washington State sex offense in 1996. In 2002, he applied for and was accepted into a Section 8 Housing Voucher Program in Massachusetts. In 2005, he moved to Maine and transferred his Section 8 housing voucher to there. Soon thereafter, he was cited for failing to register as a sex offender, but then promptly registered.

In 2006, the Penquis Community Action Program, a non-profit organization that administers the local federal Section 8 program on Behalf of the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA), approved Miller for a home ownership option which allowed him to apply the voucher toward a mortgage instead of rent. Accordingly, he purchased a newly-constructed home from Penquis.

Less than two months later, Penquis notified Miller that it was terminating-his participation in the Section 8 home ownership program pursuant to 24 C.F.R. § 982.522. The reasons given were that he had committed fraud by failing to inform Penquis that he was a person required by state law to register for life as a sex offender (lifetime registrant) and he had engaged in criminal activity that threatened the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents and persons in the immediate vicinity of the premises. An Administrative Hearing Officer reviewed the decision and found that Miller had no obligation to report his lifetime registrant status despite there being a place on the HUD-52649 form for him to do so and that failing to register was not sufficiently threatening to justify termination. The AHO set the termination decision aside.

Penquis again notified Miller of termination, this time for his original offense. The AHO found that the ten-year-old offense was too remote to justify termination and Penquis had not proven that Miller was a lifetime registrant and his mere status as a registrant did not justify termination. Despite the AHO's determination, MSHA terminated Miller's participation.

Miller filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court alleging violations of his due process, statutory and regulatory rights. A magistrate recommended dismissal. Miller filed timely objections.

The court held that, although the AHO was incorrect in concluding Miller was not a lifetime registrant, the AHO's ultimate conclusion was right for the wrong reasons. Miller was under no obligation to disclose his registration status. The fact that a request for information appeared on the form was inconsequential since no regulation or statute required that Miller disclose the information and he did not make a false statement, but merely left that part of the form blank.

Although HUD regulations prohibit the admission of a lifetime registrant into a federally-assisted housing assistance program, this is different from allowing the termination of a lifetime registrant who is already a participant in such a program. No provision in the regulations expressly authorizes such a termination. Thus, unlike drug and alcohol abusers, lifetime registrants may not be terminated simply because they are lifetime registrants. Therefore, the court rejected the magistrate's recommendation and ordered additional briefing on the remaining issues. See: Miller v. McCormick, 605 F.Supp.2d 296 (D.Me. 2009).

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Related legal case

Miller v. McCormick