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Moore v. City of East Cleveland

Citation. 431 U.S. 494, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 52 L.Ed.2d 531 (1977).

Brief Fact Summary.

Cleveland, Ohio passed a housing ordinance, which limited occupants of a dwelling unit, i.e., home, to parents and their children. A grandmother living with her grandsons was convicted under the ordinance. She challenged its validity.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Constitution protects the sanctity of family under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Cleveland, Ohio passed a housing ordinance that defined family as husband, wife, and unmarried children, i.e., the nuclear family. Appellant-Defendant was living with her two grandsons, who were cousins but not brothers and thus convicted under the statute. She challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance after she was sentenced to five days in jail and a $25 fine.


Whether the Cleveland housing ordinance limiting occupancy within a dwelling unit to the nuclear family is constitutional.


No. The Cleveland housing ordinance limiting occupancy within a dwelling unit to the nuclear family is unconstitutional.


Justice Stewart

Belle Terre is controlling. The existence of blood relative ties does not elevate the Appellant’s claim to a level requiring constitutional protections.

Justice White

The plurality erred by concluding the Appellant’s liberty interests were violated under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Living with more than one set of grandchildren does not call for any kind of heightened scrutiny.


Justice Brennan

I write separately to underscore the importance of the extended families in immigrant, minority, and disenfranchised families. Compelled poolings of scant resources requires shared households.

Justice Stevens

The critical question is whether the appellant may use her own property as she sees fit.


The ordinance violates substantive due process protections by intruding upon family sanctity. The city claims the statute is meant to prevent overcrowding, minimize traffic and parking congestion, and avoid an undue financial burden on the school system. While these goals are legitimate, they are served marginally, at best, by this ordinance.

Family is deeply rooted in this nation’s history and traditions. This is how we are able to pass down our values. Family is not limited to the nuclear family. Rather, the tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents share in recognition. Cutting off family at just the nuclear family is arbitrary and not justified. Judgement reversed.

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