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Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio

    Brief Fact Summary. A zoning ordinance limited occupancy within a dwelling unit to only a narrowly defined family unit.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Related individuals have a fundamental right to live with one another.

    Facts. A Cleveland, Ohio housing ordinance limited occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family. The ordinance defines “family” as including only a few categories of related individuals. The Appellant, Inez Moore (Appellant), challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance because her family failed to meet the legal definition of family under the Cleveland ordinance. The Appellant lived with her two grandsons who where only first cousins. Because her grandsons were not brothers, the Appellant was convicted for violating the ordinance and was sentenced to five days in jail with a $25 fine. The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. The Ohio Supreme Court denied review of the judgment.

    Issue. Whether a housing ordinance limiting occupancy, within a dwelling unit, to a narrowly defined single-family unit is constitutional.

    Held. Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). No. The United States Constitution (Constitution) prevents the Cleveland ordinance from precluding blood relatives from living together. The Cleveland ordinance is a violation of the Appellant’s fundamental right to live with her relatives. The state argues that the statute’s purpose is to prevent overcrowding, minimize traffic and parking congestion and avoid undue financial burdens on the city’s school system. The statue, therefore, selects certain categories of relatives who may live together and declares that others may not live together. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) has not found the state’s goals to be served by the ordinance. The judgment is reversed.

    Dissent. The dissenting opinions area as follows:
    Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart). “If ‘family’ included all of the householder’s grandchildren there would doubtless be the hard case of an orphaned niece or nephew. If, as the appellant suggests, a ‘family’ must include all blood relatives, what of long time friends? The point is that any definition would produce hardships in some cases without materially advancing the legislative purpose . . . .”
    Justice Byron White (J. White). The Supreme Court erred by concluding that the Appellant’s liberty interests where violated as a result of the ordinance. “[T]he equal protection claim must fail, since it is not to be judged by the strict scrutiny standard employed when a fundamental interest or suspect classification is involved . . . .”
    Concurrence. The concurring opinions are as follows:
    Justice William (J. Brennan) The conclusion cannot be made that the purpose of the Cleveland ordinance is to discriminate against black families. The ordinance, however, does interfere with the historical notion of the “extended family”, which has “provided generations of early Americans with social services and economic and emotional support in times of hardship, and was the benchhead for successive waves of immigrants who populated our cities.”
    Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). The “critical questions presented by this case is whether East Cleveland’s housing ordinance is a permissible restrictions on appellant’s right to use her own property as she sees fit.”

    Discussion. This case was distinguished from the Court’s ruling in Belle Terre v. Borass, 416 U.S. 1 (1974), where an ordinance prohibiting unrelated people from living together was upheld. This case, however, holds that related people have a fundamental right to live together.


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