Moore v. City of East Cleveland

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Moore v. City of East Cleveland  (1977) 

Moore v. City of East Cleveland 431 U.S. 494 (1977), is a United States Supreme Court case. The Court held 5-4 that an ordinance which restricted housing to a single family and defined the family as a nuclear family, rather than an extended family, was unconstitutional and a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Supreme Court of the United States

431 U.S. 494

Moore  v.  East Cleveland

Appeal from the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Cuyahoga County

No. 75-6289  Argued: November 2, 1976 --- Decided: May 31, 1977

Appellant lives in her East Cleveland, Ohio, home with her son and two grandsons (who are first cousins). An East Cleveland housing ordinance limits occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family, but defines "family" in such a way that appellant's household does not qualify. Appellant was convicted of a criminal violation of the ordinance. Her conviction was upheld on appeal over her claim that the ordinance is unconstitutional. Appellee city contends that the ordinance should be sustained under Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1 , which upheld an ordinance imposing limits on the types of groups that could occupy a single dwelling unit. Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp. 498-506; 513-521.


Mr. Justice Powell, joined by Mr. Justice Brennan, Mr. Justice Marshall, and Mr. Justice Blackmun, concluded that the ordinance deprived appellant of her liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

(a) This case is distinguishable from Belle Terre, supra, where the ordinance affected only unrelated individuals. The ordinance here expressly selects certain categories of relatives who may live together and declares that others may not, in this instance making it a crime for a grandmother to live with her grandson. Pp. 498-499.

(b) When the government intrudes on choices concerning family living arrangements, the usual deference to the legislature is inappropriate; and the Court must examine carefully the importance of the governmental interests advanced and the extent to which they are served by the challenged regulation. P. 499.

(c) The ordinance at best has but a tenuous relationship to the objectives cited by the city: avoiding overcrowding, traffic congestion, and an undue financial burden on the school system. Pp. 499-500.

(d) The strong constitutional protection of the sanctity of the family established in numerous decisions of this Court extends to the family choice involved in this case and is not confined within an arbitrary boundary drawn at the limits of the nuclear family (essentially a couple and their dependent children). Appropriate limits on substantive due process come not from drawing arbitrary lines but from careful "respect for the teachings of history [and] solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society." Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 501 (Harlan, J., concurring). The history and tradition of this Nation compel a larger conception of the family. Pp. 500-506.

Mr. Justice Stevens concluded that under the limited standard of review preserved in Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, and Nectow v. Cambridge, 277 U.S. 183, before a zoning ordinance can be declared unconstitutional it must be shown to be clearly arbitrary and unreasonable as having no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare; that appellee city has failed totally to explain the need for a rule that would allow a homeowner to have grandchildren live with her if they are brothers but not if they are cousins; and that under that standard appellee city's unprecedented ordinance constitutes a taking of property without due process and without just compensation. Pp. 513-521.

Powell, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun JJ., joined. Brennan, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Marshall, J., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Burger, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion. Stewart, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, J., joined. White, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Edward R. Stege, Jr., argued the cause for appellant. With him on the brief were Francis D. Murtaugh, Jr., and Lloyd B. Snyder.

Leonard Young argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Henry B. Fischer.[1]


  1. . Melvin L. Wulf and Benjamin Sheerer filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).