Last updated on: 12/28/2009 | Author:

Moore v. City of East Clevland, Ohio

Decided on May 31, 1977; 431 US 494

Grandma gets jail time and fined for living with her son and grandchildren

A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (State), 14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Can the City of East Cleveland may, through its zoning ordinances, constitutionally define “family” so narrowly as to preclude many blood relatives from living together as a single family unit, even to the extent of precluding a grandmother from living with and raising her grandsons? 


A. Background:

Appellant (Inez Moore) lived in her home with her son and two grandsons in East Cleveland, Ohio. She was convicted criminally by violation of the East Cleveland housing ordinance which limited occupancy of a residence to members of a single family.  Appellant’s household did not qualify as a family by the city’s defining standards.  Ms. Moore was sentenced to spending five days in jail, and she was fined $25. During the appeal in the Court of Appeals of Ohio, appellant claimed that the ordinance was unconstitutional, however the court affirmed her conviction. Ultimately, appellant appealed to the US Supreme Court, and the high court granted her appeal.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
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.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
“The effect of Appellee’s ordinance §1341.08, operating in conjunction with §1351.02, is to deny Appellant and her family the right to live in East Cleveland. Her right to determine basic family relationships and her rights of association and privacy in the family context are arbitrarily infringed by Appellee’s ordinance despite the fact that this deprivation of fundamental rights is not necessary to promote any compelling interest of East Cleveland. This lack of relationship between the purposes asserted for the ordinance and the means chosen to further such purposes in itself is sufficient to constitute a violation of Equal Protection, but the ordinance is further flawed by its failure to draw its classification in such a way as to minimize intrusion on constitutionally protected rights. Even under the lesser degree of scrutiny applied to statutes not affecting fundamental rights the ordinance in issue here violates the Equal Protection clause because the classification it creates does not bear a reasonable relationship to the asserted purposes.

In addition to these Equal Protection violations, the ordinance fails to meet the requirements of the Due Process Clause. The right to free choice in matters of family life, the right to privacy in the family context and the right of free association are all protected ‘liberties’ under the Due Process Clause, and the lack of relationship between the means and asserted ends of the ordinance alone renders it unconstitutional. A further Due Process violation is found in the failure to choose the means which least affect fundamental liberties, as the ordinance deprives many families of their protected rights despite the fact that they do not contribute to the problems it attempts to control. Yet a conclusive presumption is raised that any family units outside the restrictive definition of ‘family’ necessarily contribute to the problems of overcrowding of the schools and traffic congestion; such presumptions violate Due Process for their arbitrary deprivation of personal liberties. Thus appellee’s ordinance §1341.08 is unconstitutional for its violation of both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses and should be held void.”

– ACLU brief in Moore v. City of East Cleveland

“The Supreme Court of Ohio correctly found that there was no substantial constitutional question thereby affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District in which the court held that the East Cleveland zoning ordinances, in its definition of family, did not constitute a denial of equal protection or due process or appellant’s fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court of Ohio correctly found no substantial constitutional question and the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District found that the City of East Cleveland has a compelling interest in acting in the best interest of the safety, health, welfare, and morals of its citizens, The means chosen were held to be a proper exercise of the police power by the City of East Cleveland and the procedure was reasonable and not arbitrary.

Further, appellant presented no evidence at the trial below and none is in the record to show that the City acted arbitrarily. In the instant case, appellant was provided, through the codified ordinances of East Cleveland, with possibly three (3) means to obtain relief. Where appellant failed or refused to act to remedy the situation, there was no violation of any of her constitutional rights.”

– Appellee’s brief in Moore v. City of East Cleveland

Opposing Side
Melvin L. Wulf and Benjamin Sheerer filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Cleveland as amicus curiae urging reversal.
No brief was filed as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

“The city argues that our decision in Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, requires us to sustain the ordinance attacked here… East Cleveland, in contrast, has chosen to regulate the occupancy of its housing by slicing deeply into the family itself. This is no mere incidental result of the ordinance. On its face it selects certain categories of relatives who may live together and declares that others may not. In particular, it makes a crime of a grandmother’s choice to live with her grandson in circumstances like those presented here.

When a city undertakes such intrusive regulation of the family, neither Belle Terre nor Euclid governs; the usual judicial deference to the legislature is inappropriate. ‘This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.’ A host of cases, tracing their lineage to and have consistently acknowledged a ‘private realm of family life which the state cannot enter…’ But when the government intrudes on choices concerning family living arrangements, this Court must examine carefully the importance of the governmental interests advanced and the extent to which they are served by the challenged regulation.

When thus examined, this ordinance cannot survive. The city seeks to justify it as a means of preventing overcrowding, minimizing traffic and parking congestion, and avoiding an undue financial burden on East Cleveland’s school system. Although these are legitimate goals, the ordinance before us serves them marginally, at best… Appropriate limits on substantive due process come not from drawing arbitrary lines but rather from careful “respect for the teachings of history (and), solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society”. Our decisions establish that the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition. It is through the family that we inculcate and pass down many of our most cherished values, moral and cultural.

Ours is by no means a tradition limited to respect for the bonds uniting the members of the nuclear family. The tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children has roots equally venerable and equally deserving of constitutional recognition. Over the years millions of our citizens have grown up in just such an environment, and most, surely, have profited from it. Even if conditions of modern society have brought about a decline in extended family households, they have not erased the accumulated wisdom of civilization, gained over the centuries and honored throughout our history, that supports a larger conception of the family. Out of choice, necessity, or a sense of family responsibility, it has been common for close relatives to draw together and participate in the duties and the satisfactions of a common home. Decisions concerning child rearing, which Yoder, Meyer, Pierce and other cases have recognized as entitled to constitutional protection, long have been shared with grandparents or other relatives who occupy the same household indeed who may take on major responsibility for the rearing of the children. Especially in times of adversity, such as the death of a spouse or economic need, the broader family has tended to come together for mutual sustenance and to maintain or rebuild a secure home life. This is apparently what happened here.”

Held: the judgment is reversed.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Powell, L. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro (Wrote special concurrence)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro (Joined concurring opinion)

  • Burger, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined Stewart’s dissenting opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging reversal; the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.