City of Memphis v. Greene
Annotate this Case
451 U.S. 100 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
City of Memphis v. Greene, 451 U.S. 100 (1981)
City of Memphis v. Greene
Argued December 3, 1980
Decided April 20, 1981
451 U.S. 100
The city of Memphis decided to close the north end of a street (West Drive) that traverses a white residential community (Hein Park), the area to the north of which is predominantly black. West Drive is one of three streets that enter Hein Park from the north. The stated reasons for the closing were to reduce the flow of traffic using Hein Park streets, to increase safety to children who live in Hein Park or use it to walk to school, and to reduce "traffic pollution" in the residential area. Respondents, residents of the predominantly black area, and two civic associations brought a class action in Federal District Court against the city and various officials, alleging that the street closing violated 42 U.S.C. § 1982 -- which entitles all citizens to "have the same right . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens . . . to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property" -- and also violated the Thirteenth Amendment, as constituting "a badge of slavery." Ultimately, the District Court entered judgment for the defendants, holding that the street closing did not create a benefit for white citizens which was denied black citizens, that racially discriminatory intent or purpose had not been proved, and that the city had not departed significantly from normal procedures in authorizing the closing. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the street closing was invalid because it adversely affected respondents' ability to hold and enjoy their property. The court concluded that relief under § 1982 was required by the facts (1) that the closing would benefit a white neighborhood and adversely affect blacks; (2) that a barrier was to be erected at the point of separation of the white and black neighborhoods and would have the effect of limiting contact between them; (3) that the closing was not part of a city-wide plan, but rather was a "unique step to protect one neighborhood from outside influences which the residents considered to be undesirable"'; and (4) that there was evidence of economic depreciation in the property values in the predominantly black area.
1. The record and the District Court's findings do not support the Court of Appeals' conclusions. Pp. 451 U. S. 110-119.
2. The street closing did not violate § 1982. The evidence failed to show that the street closing would prevent blacks from exercising the same property rights as whites, that it depreciated the value of blacks' property, or that it severely restricted access to black homes. Rather, the record discloses that respondents' only injury is the requirement that one street rather than another must be used for certain trips within the city. Such an injury does not involve any impairment to the kind of property interests identified as being within the reach of § 1982. Pp. 451 U. S. 120-124.
3. Nor did the street closing violate the Thirteenth Amendment. A review of the justification for the closing demonstrates that its disparate impact on black citizens could not be fairly characterized as a badge or incident of slavery. The record discloses no discriminatory motive on the city's part, but rather that the interests of safety and tranquility that motivated the closing are legitimate. Such interests are sufficient to justify an adverse impact on motorists who are somewhat inconvenienced by the street closing. That inconvenience cannot be equated to an actual restraint on liberty of black citizens that is in any sense comparable to the odious practice the Thirteenth Amendment was designed to eradicate. Pp. 451 U. S. 124-129.
610 F.2d 395, reversed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 451 U. S. 129. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 451 U. S. 135.
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