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Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.

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Brief Fact Summary.

A Texas city denied a special permit for the operation of a group home for the mentally disabled, acting pursuant to a municipal zoning ordinance requiring permits for such homes.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The mentally disabled is not a quasi-suspect class. Legislation that distinguishes between the mentally disabled and others must be rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

As such, it violates equal protection under Arlington Heights.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

The city council of Cleburne, Texas denied a special permit to the Cleburne Living Center for the operation of a group home for the mentally disabled, acting pursuant to a municipal zoning ordinance requiring permits for such homes. The Cleburne Living Center brought an equal protection challenge.

Issue.

Did the denial of the permit to Cleburne Living Center and its potential residents violate the Equal Protection Clause?

Held.

Yes, the denial of the permit to Cleburne Living Center and its potential residents violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Dissent.

Justice Marshall

Although this Court holds the ordinance invalid on rational basis grounds, yet in actuality uses a form of heightened scrutiny to hold the Cleburne ordinance invalid. Under traditional rational basis review, the Cleburne ordinance would surely be valid because of legitimate concerns for fire hazards or the serenity of the neighborhood.

Discussion.

Although there have been and will continue to be instances of discrimination against the mentally disabled, this Court does not recognize the mentally disabled as a quasi-suspect class due to the lack of history of discrimination. The mentally disabled is not a traditionally politically powerless group, given that they have been able to attract the attention of lawmakers on various issues. Thus, to withstand equal protection review, legislation that distinguishes between the mentally disabled and others must be rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose.

The city of Cleburne does not require a special use permit for apartment houses, multiple dwellings, boarding and lodging houses, fraternity or sorority houses, dormitories, apartment hotels, hospitals, sanitariums, or nursing homes for the aged, etc. Thus, the record does not reveal any rational basis for believing the Cleburne Living Center would pose any special threat to the city’s legitimate interests. Mere negative attitudes or fear, unsubstantiated by factors properly cognizable in a zoning proceeding are not permissible bases for treating a home for the mentally disabled differently from others.


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