422 U.S. 490 (1975), 73-2024, Warth v. Seldin

Docket NºNo. 73-2024
Citation422 U.S. 490, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343
Party NameWarth v. Seldin
Case DateJune 25, 1975
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 490

422 U.S. 490 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343




No. 73-2024

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1975

Argued March 17, 1975




This action for declaratory and injunctive relief and damages was brought by certain of the petitioners against respondent town of Penfield (a suburb of Rochester, N.Y.), and respondent members of Penfield's Zoning, Planning, and Town Boards, claiming that the town's [95 S.Ct. 2201] zoning ordinance, by its terms and as enforced, effectively excluded persons of low and moderate income from living in the town, in violation of petitioners' constitutional rights and of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1983. Petitioners consist of both the original plaintiffs -- (1) Metro-Act of Rochester, a not-for-profit corporation among whose purposes is fostering action to alleviate the housing shortage for low and moderate income persons in the Rochester area; (2) several individual Rochester taxpayers; and (3) several Rochester area residents with low or moderate incomes who are also members of minority racial or ethnic groups -- and Rochester Home Builders Association (Home Builders), embracing a number of residential construction firms in the Rochester area, which unsuccessfully sought to intervene as a party plaintiff, and the Housing Council in the Monroe County Area (Housing Council), a not-for-profit corporation consisting of a number of organizations interested in housing problems, which was unsuccessfully sought to be added as a party plaintiff. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground, inter alia, that petitioners lacked standing to prosecute the action, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Whether the rules of standing are considered as aspects of the constitutional requirement that a plaintiff must make out a "case or controversy" within the meaning of Art. III, or, apart from such requirement, as prudential limitations on the courts' role in resolving disputes involving "generalized grievances" or third parties' legal rights or interests, none of the petitioners has met the threshold requirement of such rules that to have standing a complainant must clearly allege facts demonstrating that he is a proper party to invoke judicial resolution of the dispute and the exercise of the court's remedial powers. Pp. 498-518.

Page 491

(a) As to petitioner Rochester residents who assert standing as persons of low or moderate income and, coincidentally, as members of minority racial or ethnic groups, the facts alleged fail to support an actionable causal relationship between Penfield's zoning practices and these petitioners' alleged injury. A plaintiff who seeks to challenge exclusionary zoning practices must allege specific, concrete facts demonstrating that such practices harm him, and that he personally would benefit in a tangible way from the court's intervention. Here, these petitioners rely on little more than the remote possibility, unsubstantiated by allegations of fact, that their situation might have been better had respondents acted otherwise, and might improve were the court to afford relief. Pp. 502-508.

(b) With respect to petitioners who assert standing on the basis of their status as Rochester taxpayers, claiming that they are suffering economic injury through increased taxes resulting from Penfield's zoning practices having forced Rochester to provide more tax-abated low or moderate cost housing than it otherwise would have done, the line of causation between Penfield's actions and such injury is not apparent. But even assuming that these petitioners could establish that the zoning practices harm them, the basis of their claim is that the practices violate the constitutional and statutory rights of third parties -- persons of low and moderate income who allegedly are excluded from Penfield. Hence, their claim falls squarely within the prudential standing rule that normally bars litigants from asserting the rights or legal interests of others in order to obtain relief from injury to themselves. Pp. 508-510.

(c) Petitioner Metro-Act's claims to standing as a Rochester taxpayer and on behalf of its members who are Rochester taxpayers or persons of low or moderate income are precluded for the reasons applying to the denial of standing to the individual petitioner Rochester taxpayers and persons of low and moderate income. In addition, with respect to Metro-Act's claim to standing because 9% [95 S.Ct. 2202] of its membership is composed of Penfield residents, prudential considerations strongly counsel against according such residents or Metro-Act standing where the complaint is that they have been harmed indirectly by the exclusion of others, thus attempting, in the absence of a showing of any exception allowing such a claim, to raise the putative rights of third parties. Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Ins., 409 U.S. 205, distinguished. Pp. 512-514.

Page 492

(d) Petitioner Home Builders, which alleges no monetary injury to itself, has no standing to claim damages on behalf of its members, since whatever injury may have been suffered is peculiar to the individual member concerned, thus requiring individualized proof of both the fact and extent of injury and individual awards. Nor does Home Builders have standing to claim prospective relief absent any allegation of facts sufficient to show the existence of any injury to members of sufficient immediacy and ripeness to warrant judicial intervention. Pp. 514-516.

(e) Petitioner Housing Council has no standing where the complaint and record do not indicate that any of its members, with one exception, has made any effort involving Penfield, has taken any steps toward building there, or had any dealings with respondents. With respect to the one exception, this petitioner averred no basis for inferring that an earlier controversy between it and respondents remained a live, concrete dispute. Pp. 516-517.

495 F.2d 1187, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 518. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 519.

Page 493

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, various organizations and individuals resident in the Rochester, N.Y. metropolitan area, brought this action in the District Court for the Western District of New York against the town of Penfield, an incorporated municipality adjacent to Rochester, and against members of Penfield's Zoning, Planning, and Town Boards. Petitioners claimed that the town's zoning ordinance, by its terms and as enforced by the defendant board members, respondents here, effectively excluded persons of low and moderate income from living in the town, in contravention of petitioners' First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1983. The District Court dismissed the complaint and denied a motion to add petitioner Housing Council in the Monroe County Area, Inc., as party plaintiff and also a motion by petitioner Rochester Home Builders Association, Inc., for leave to intervene as party plaintiff. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, holding that none of the plaintiffs, and neither Housing Council nor Home Builders Association, had standing to prosecute the action. 495 F.2d 1187 (1974). We granted the petition for certiorari. 419 U.S. 823 (1974). For reasons that differ in certain respects from those upon which the Court of Appeals relied, we affirm.


Petitioners Metro-Act of Rochester, Inc., and eight individual plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all persons similarly situated,1 filed this action on January 24,

Page 494

1972, averring jurisdiction in the District Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. The complaint identified [95 S.Ct. 2203] Metro-Act as a not-for-profit New York corporation, the purposes of which are

to alert ordinary citizens to problems of social concern; . . . to inquire into the reasons for the critical housing shortage for low and moderate income persons in the Rochester area and to urge action on the part of citizens to alleviate the general housing shortage for low and moderate income persons.2

Plaintiffs Vinkey, Reichert, Warth, and Harris were described as residents of the city of Rochester, all of whom owned real property in and paid property taxes to that city.3 Plaintiff Ortiz, "a citizen of Spanish/Puerto Rican extraction," App. 7, also owned real property in and paid taxes to Rochester. Ortiz, however, resided in Wayland, N.Y., some 42 miles from Penfield, where he was employed.4 The complaint described plaintiffs Broadnax, Reyes, and Sinkler as residents of Rochester and "persons fitting within the classification of low and moderate income as hereinafter defined. . . ."5 Ibid. Although

Page 495

the complaint does not expressly so state, the record shows that Broadnax, Reyes, and Sinkler are members of ethnic or racial minority groups: Reyes is of Puerto Rican ancestry; Broadnax and Sinkler are Negroes.

Petitioners' complaint alleged that Penfield's zoning ordinance, adopted in 1962, has the purpose and effect of excluding persons of low and moderate income from residing in the town. In particular, the ordinance allocates 98% of the town's vacant land to single-family detached housing, and allegedly by imposing unreasonable requirements relating to lot size, setback, floor area, and habitable space, the ordinance increases the cost of single-family detached housing beyond the means of persons of low and moderate income. Moreover, according to petitioners, only 0.3% of the land available for residential construction is allocated to multifamily structures (apartments,...

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