Thorpe v. Housing Auth.
393 U.S. 268 (1969)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thorpe v. Housing Auth., 393 U.S. 268 (1969)

Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham

No. 20

Argued October 23, 1968

Decided January 13, 1969

393 U.S. 268

Syllabus

Petitioner had a month-to-month tenancy in a federally assisted public housing project operated by respondent, the lease providing for termination by either party on 15 days' notice. She received a lease cancellation notice, with no reasons being given, the day after being elected president of a tenants' organization. Petitioner, who fruitlessly tried to determine why she was being evicted, refused to vacate. Respondent brought an eviction action, and the State Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's eviction order, which held that the reasons for cancellation were immaterial, notwithstanding petitioner's contention that she was being evicted because of her organizational activities in violation of her First Amendment rights. This Court granted certiorari. Thereafter, on February 7, 1967, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a circular requiring local housing authorities to give tenants the reasons for eviction and to afford them an opportunity for explanation or reply. Following this Court's remand for further proceedings in the light of the HUD circular (386 U.S. 670), the State Supreme Court upheld petitioner's eviction on the ground that the parties' rights had "matured" before issuance of the circular, which the court held applied only prospectively. The court stayed execution of its judgment pending this Court's decision. Respondent urges that the circular (1) is only advisory; (2) if mandatory, constitutes an unconstitutional impairment of respondent's contract with HUD and its lease agreement with petitioner, and (3) if constitutional, does not apply to eviction proceedings commenced before its issuance.

Held:

1. Housing authorities of federally assisted public housing projects must follow the requirements of the February 7, 1967, HUD circular before evicting any tenant residing in such projects on the date of this Court's decision herein. Pp. 274-284.

(a) The circular, which originally supplemented and later became incorporated in HUD's Low-Rent Management Manual issued under the agency's general rulemaking powers pursuant to § 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937, was intended by HUD to be mandatory. Pp. 393 U. S. 274-276.

Page 393 U. S. 269

(b) The simple notification procedure required by the circular, which has only nominal effect on respondent's administration of the housing project, does not violate the congressional policy set forth in the Act for local control of federally financed housing projects. Pp. 393 U. S. 277-278.

(c) The respective obligations of HUD and respondent under the annual contributions contract between them, and the lease agreement between petitioner and respondent, remain unchanged by the circular, which therefore does not involve any impairment of contractual obligations in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 393 U. S. 278-280.

(d) The circular furthers the Act's remedial purpose. Pp. 280-281.

(e) The circular applies to eviction proceedings commenced before its issuance under the general rule that a court must apply the law (here that of an administrative agency acting pursuant to legislative authorization) in effect at the time it renders decision, and that rule is particularly applicable here, where ascertainment of the reason for eviction is essential to enable a tenant to defend against eviction for activity claimed to be constitutionally protected. Pp. 393 U. S. 281-283.

2. It would be premature to decide, as petitioner urges, that this Court must establish guidelines to insure that she is given not only the reasons for her eviction, but also a hearing comporting with due process requirements. Pp. 393 U. S. 283-284.

271 N.C. 468, 157 S.E.2d 147, reversed and remanded.

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