Moore v. City of East Cleveland,
431 U.S. 494 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Moore v. City of East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977)

Moore v. City of East Cleveland

No. 75-6289

Argued November 2, 1976

Decided May 31, 1977

431 U.S. 494


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. 431 U. S. 498-506; 431 U. S. 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. 431 U. S. 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. 431 U. S. 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. 431 U. S. 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

Page 431 U. S. 495

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, 381 U. S. 501 (Harlan, J., concurring). The history and tradition of this Nation compel a larger conception of the family. Pp. 431 U. S. 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. 431 U. S. 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, post, p. 431 U. S. 506. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 431 U. S. 513. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 521. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 531. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 541.

Primary Holding

Zoning ordinances cannot restrict members of a traditional family from living together.


The city of East Cleveland did not allow non-family members to live together. Its zoning ordinance defined "family" in a way that excluded many of the relationships that were traditionally included in the definition of family. For example, Moore lived with her son and two of her grandsons, but she was told that one of the grandsons was not allowed to live with her under the ordinance. She was convicted of violating it when she refused to comply, and she was jailed and fined. She argued that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause.



  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

The city has no rational purpose for enacting such a regulation, which is arbitrary and capricious in harming traditionally protected rights. People who live together as a family are not necessarily all members of a nuclear family. Substantive due process is violated when brothers, cousins, and other family members are not allowed to live together. The city can prevent unrelated people from living together, but its efforts to forestall overcrowding and traffic congestion are not sufficiently important or related to the ordinance to justify the damage done to traditional family relationships.


  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

The rights to freedom of association and freedom of privacy do not protect a grandmother-grandson relationship. Precedents set in the area of having children and raising them do not protect her interests under substantive due process. A law is not unconstitutional simply because it creates some hardships.


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)


  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)


  • Byron Raymond White (Author)

Case Commentary

It is useful to remember that the Court has upheld zoning ordinances that prevented people who were completely unrelated from living together. There is a clear line drawn between family members of any nature and non-family members that makes the law in this area relatively straightforward.

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