Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Moore v. City of East Cleveland

Citation. Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 97 S. Ct. 1932, 52 L. Ed. 2d 531, 1977 U.S. LEXIS 17 (U.S. May 31, 1977)

Brief Fact Summary. A Cleveland statute made it a crime for a dwelling to contain members of more than one family, and limited the definition of family to a basic nuclear family. Appellant was convicted under the statute when her son, grandson, and a grandson from another child all lived with her.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The right to live as a family unit is protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Facts. Appellant, Mrs. Inez Moore, lived in an East Cleveland home with her son, her son and her two grandsons. The two grandsons were first cousins rather than brothers, with one of the grandsons moving in with his appellant after his mother’s death. Appellant received notice that she was in violation of a Cleveland criminal statute that limits occupants of a dwelling to members of a single family. Appellant’s family did not meet the definition required for a single family, and she was convicted and sentenced to 5 days in jail and a $25 fine.

Issue. Does the Cleveland statute violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Held. The right infringed upon is a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause, and the statute does not sufficiently advance legitimate state interests. Therefore, the statute is unconstitutional.
Unlike previous precedent upholding limitations on housing units that affected only unrelated individuals, the present statute declares that certain categories of relatives may live together while others may not. This constitutes an intrusive regulation of the family protected by the Due Process Clause.

The city justifies the statute as a means of preventing overcrowding, minimizing traffic and parking congestion, and avoiding undue financial burden on the school system. While these are legitimate goals, the statute serves them only marginally because large groups of people can still live together so long as they meet the statutory definition of a single family. The city also tries to distinguish this case from other precedent that has provided for constitutional protection of family rights by suggesting that such rights extend only to the nuclear family. This Court finds that the force and rationale of these precedents are applicable in the present case.

Caution, rather than abandonment, is the proper way to move forward when the judicial branch gives enhanced protection to substantive liberties without the guidance of more specific provisions of the Bill of Rights. Clear lines cannot place the limits on substantive due process, rather an examination of the teachings of history and recognition of the basic values that underlie society should serve as guidance.

Dissent. Justice Stewart, Justice Rehnquist. Appellant contends that she has a constitutional right to share her residence with whomever she pleases, but precedent in Belle Terre says otherwise. Although appellant’s desire to share her dwelling with her extended family involves private family life, the desire cannot be equated with interests previously found to be constitutionally protected. Appellant also cannot claim constitutional rights on equal protection grounds because the city’s definition does not offend the Constitution. The pluralities’ decision extends the limited substantive contours of the Due Process Clause beyond recognition.

Concurrence. Justice Brennan, Justice Marshall. This concurrence is separately written to underscore the fact that such family units are important to immigrant, minority, and disenfranchised families as a means of survival.

Discussion. This case demonstrates different opinions between the plurality and the dissent on how far to extend the rights protected by substantive due process.