Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co.
272 U.S. 365 (1926)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926)

Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co.

No. 31

Argued January 27, 1926

Reargued October 12, 1926

Decided November 22, 1926

272 U.S. 365

Syllabus

1. A suit to enjoin the enforcement of a zoning ordinance with respect to the plaintiff's land need not be preceded by any application on his part for a building permit, or for relief under the ordinance from the board which administers it, where the gravamen of the bill is that the ordinance, of its own force, operates unconstitutionally to reduce the value of the land and destroy its marketability, and the attack is not against specific provisions, but against the ordinance in its entirety. P. 272 U. S. 386.

2. While the meaning of constitutional guaranties never varies, the scope of their application must expand or contract to meet the new and different conditions which are constantly coming within the field of their operation. P. 272 U. S. 386.

Page 272 U. S. 366

3. The question whether the power exists to forbid the erection of a building of a particular kind or for a particular use, like the question whether a particular thing is a nuisance, is to be determined by considering the building or the thing not abstractly, but in connection with the circumstances and the locality. P. 272 U. S. 387.

4. If the validity of the legislative classification for zoning purposes be fairly debatable, the legislative judgment must be allowed to control. P. 272 U. S. 388.

5. No serious difference of opinion exists in respect of the validity of laws and regulations fixing the height of buildings within reasonable limits, the character of materials and methods of construction, and the adjoining area which must be left open in order to minimize the danger of fire or collapse, the evils of over-crowding, and the like, and excluding from residential sections offensive trades, industries, and structures likely to create nuisances. P. 272 U. S. 388.

6. The same power may be extended to a general exclusion from residential districts of all industrial establishments, though some may not be dangerous or offensive; for the inclusion of a reasonable margin to insure effective enforcement will not put upon a law, otherwise valid, the stamp of invalidity. P. 272 U. S. 388.

7. The power to relegate industrial establishments to localities separate from residential sections is not to be denied upon the ground that its exercise will divert a flow of industrial development from the course which it would follow and will thereby injure the complaining land owner. P. 272 U. S. 389.

8. The police power supports also, generally speaking, an ordinance forbidding the erection in designated residential districts, of business houses, retail stores and shops, and other like establishments, also of apartment houses in detached-house sections -- since such ordinances, apart from special applications, cannot be declared clearly arbitrary and unreasonable, and without substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare. P. 272 U. S. 390.

9. Where an injunction is sought against such an ordinance upon the broad ground that its mere existence and threatened enforcement, by materially and adversely affecting values and curtailing the opportunities of the market, constitute a present and irreparable injury, the court, finding the ordinance in its general scope and dominant features valid, will not scrutinize its provisions sentence by sentence to ascertain by a process of piecemeal dissection whether there may be, here and there, provisions of a minor character, or relating to matters of administration, or not shown

Page 272 U. S. 367

to contribute to the injury complained of, which, if attacked separately, might not withstand the test of constitutionality. P. 272 U. S. 395.

297 Fed. 307, reversed.

APPEAL from a decree of the District Court enjoining the Village and its Building Inspector from enforcing a zoning ordinance. The suit was brought by an owner of unimproved land within the corporate limits of the village, who sought the relief upon the ground that, because of the building restrictions imposed, the ordinance operated to reduce the normal value of his property and to deprive him of liberty and property without due process of law.

Page 272 U. S. 379

Primary Holding
If they are not arbitrary or unreasonable, zoning ordinances are constitutional under the police power of local governments as long as they have some relation to public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.
Facts
The Ohio village of Euclid imposed a zoning ordinance that was designed to keep its residential character by preventing an influx of industry from the nearby city of Cleveland. The ordinance divided property into six classes of use as well as other classes based on height and area. Ambler Realty, which owned 68 acres of land in Euclid, sought to develop its property for industry. However, the ordinance divided its land into three classes of use that would undermine Ambler's objective. The company claimed that the town had violated its due process rights by enacting an ordinance that had dramatically reduced the property's value because the acceptable uses were narrowly defined.

When the case was initially heard, the town argued that Ambler had not exhausted its administrative remedies and thus lacked standing to sue. This was because it had not brought the issue to the Euclid Zoning Board, as the ordinance specified. However, the trial court bypassed this argument in finding that the ordinance was an unconstitutional taking of property under the Fifth Amendment. Since it was facially invalid, there was no need for any party to comply with any of its requirements.
Attorneys
  • Newton D. Baker (plaintiff)
  • James Metzenbaum (defendant)

Opinions

Majority

  • George Sutherland
  • William Howard Taft
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
  • Harlan Fiske Stone
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
  • Edward Terry Sanford

While the Court found that Ambler had standing to sue, it rejected its arguments on the constitutionality of the zoning ordinance, which it found to be neither arbitrary nor unreasonable. The majority applied a deferential standard of review, as the Court generally does for constitutional challenges to economic regulations. Sutherland stated that the ordinance did not exceed the local government's police power. Zoning regulations generally will be upheld as long as there is some connection to the public welfare in the circumstances of the situation.

Sutherland also wrote that a party challenging a law to which rational basis applies, which was the case here, needs to show highly compelling evidence to support its burden of proof. To the contrary, Ambler had relied on speculation and conjecture regarding the extent of the property's depreciation.

Dissent

  • Willis Van Devanter (Author)
  • James Clark McReynolds
  • Pierce Butler

Case Commentary

This was the landmark Supreme Court case on the validity of zoning ordinances, over which municipalities and other local governments have broad discretion. Since it is very easy to meet this standard, their power sometimes has been abused in attempts to create social homogeneity, resulting in segregation. However, land use regulations sometimes may be held to constitute a taking that requires compensation, even if they are constitutionally valid. No case has presented the opportunity for the Court to revisit Euclid, and most cities and towns now have zoning ordinances.

Ambler left its tract undeveloped until the Second World War, when General Motors built a plant there. It is now the site of a long-abandoned factory.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.