473 U.S. 432 (1985), 84-468, City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 84-468
Citation:473 U.S. 432, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313, 53 U.S.L.W. 5022
Party Name:City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.
Case Date:July 01, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 432

473 U.S. 432 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313, 53 U.S.L.W. 5022

City of Cleburne, Texas

v.

Cleburne Living Center, Inc.

No. 84-468

United States Supreme Court

July 1, 1985

Argued March 18, 1985

Reargued April 23, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE

FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent Cleburne Living Center, Inc. (CLC), which anticipated leasing a certain building for the operation of a group home for the mentally retarded, was informed by petitioner city that a special use permit would be required, the city having concluded that the proposed group home should be classified as a "hospital for the feebleminded" under the zoning ordinance covering the area in which the proposed home would be located. Accordingly, CLC applied for a special use permit, but the City Council, after a public hearing, denied the permit. CLC and others (also respondents here) then filed suit against the city and a number of its officials, alleging that the zoning ordinance, on its face and as applied, violated the equal protection rights of CLC and its potential residents. The District Court held the ordinance and its application constitutional. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that mental retardation is a "quasi-suspect" classification; that, under the applicable "heightened scrutiny" equal protection test, the ordinance was facially invalid because it did [105 S.Ct. 3251] not substantially further an important governmental purpose; and that the ordinance was also invalid as applied.

Held:

1. The Court of Appeals erred in holding mental retardation a quasi-suspect classification calling for a more exacting standard of judicial review than is normally accorded economic and social legislation. Pp. 439-447.

(a) Where individuals in a group affected by a statute have distinguishing characteristics relevant to interests a State has the authority to implement, the Equal Protection Clause requires only that the classification drawn by the statute be rationally related to a legitimate state interest. When social or economic legislation is at issue, the Equal Protection Clause allows the States wide latitude. Pp. 439-442.

(b) Mentally retarded persons, who have a reduced ability to cope with and function in the everyday world, are thus different from other persons, and the States' interest in dealing with and providing for them

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is plainly a legitimate one. The distinctive legislative response, both national and state, to the plight of those who are mentally retarded demonstrates not only that they have unique problems, but also that the lawmakers have been addressing their difficulties in a manner that belies a continuing antipathy or prejudice and a corresponding need for more intrusive oversight by the judiciary than is afforded under the normal equal protection standard. Moreover, the legislative response, which could hardly have occurred and survived without public support, negates any claim that the mentally retarded are politically powerless in the sense that they have no ability to attract the attention of the lawmakers. The equal protection standard requiring that legislation be rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose affords government the latitude necessary both to pursue policies designed to assist the retarded in realizing their full potential, and to freely and efficiently engage in activities that burden the retarded in what is essentially an incidental manner. Pp. 442-447.

2. Requiring a special use permit for the proposed group home here deprives respondents of the equal protection of the laws, and thus it is unnecessary to decide whether the ordinance's permit requirement is facially invalid where the mentally retarded are involved. Although the mentally retarded, as a group, are different from those who occupy other facilities -- such as boarding houses and hospitals -- that are permitted in the zoning area in question without a special permit, such difference is irrelevant unless the proposed group home would threaten the city's legitimate interests in a way that the permitted uses would not. The record does not reveal any rational basis for believing that the proposed group home would pose any special threat to the city's legitimate interests. Requiring the permit in this case appears to rest on an irrational prejudice against the mentally retarded, including those who would occupy the proposed group home and who would live under the closely supervised and highly regulated conditions expressly provided for by state and federal law. Pp. 447-450.

726 F.2d 191, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 451. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 455.

Page 435

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

A Texas city denied a special use permit for the operation of a group home for the mentally retarded, acting pursuant to a municipal zoning ordinance requiring permits for such homes. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that mental retardation is a "quasi-suspect" classification, and that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause because it did not substantially further an important governmental [105 S.Ct. 3252] purpose. We hold that a lesser standard of scrutiny is appropriate, but conclude that, under that standard, the ordinance is invalid as applied in this case.

I

In July, 1980, respondent Jan Hannah purchased a building at 201 Featherston Street in the city of Cleburne, Texas, with the intention of leasing it to Cleburne Living Center, Inc. (CLC),1 for the operation of a group home for the mentally retarded. It was anticipated that the home would house 13 retarded men and women, who would be under the constant supervision of CLC staff members. The house had four bedrooms and two baths, with a half bath to be added. CLC planned to comply with all applicable state and federal regulations.2

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The city informed CLC that a special use permit would be required for the operation of a group home at the site, and CLC accordingly submitted a permit application. In response to a subsequent inquiry from CLC, the city explained that, under the zoning regulations applicable to the site, a special use permit, renewable annually, was required for the construction of "[h]ospitals for the insane or feeble-minded, or alcoholic [sic] or drug addicts, or penal or correctional institutions."3 The city had determined that the proposed

Page 437

group home should be classified as a "hospital for the feebleminded." After holding a public hearing on CLC's application, the City Council voted 3 to 1 to deny a special use permit.4

CLC then filed suit in Federal District Court against the city and a number of its officials, alleging, inter alia, that the zoning ordinance was invalid on its face and as applied because it discriminated against the mentally retarded in violation of the equal protection rights of CLC and its potential residents. The District Court found that,

[i]f the potential residents of the Featherston Street home were not mentally retarded, but the home was the same in all other respects, its use would be permitted under the city's zoning ordinance,

and that the City Council's decision "was motivated primarily by the fact that the residents of the home would be persons who are mentally retarded." App. 93, 94. Even so, the District Court held the ordinance and its application constitutional. Concluding that no fundamental right was implicated, and that mental retardation was neither a suspect nor a quasi-suspect classification, the court employed the minimum level of judicial scrutiny applicable to equal protection claims. The court deemed the ordinance, as written and applied, to be rationally related to the city's legitimate interests in "the legal responsibility of CLC and its residents, . . . the safety and fears of residents in the adjoining neighborhood," and the number of people to be housed in the home.5 Id. at 103.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, determining that mental retardation was a quasi-suspect classification and that it should assess the validity of the ordinance

Page 438

under intermediate-level scrutiny. 726 F.2d 191 (1984). Because mental retardation was in fact relevant to many legislative actions, strict scrutiny was not appropriate. But in light of the history of "unfair and often grotesque mistreatment" of the retarded, discrimination against them was "likely to reflect deep-seated prejudice." Id. at 197. In addition, the mentally retarded lacked political power, and their condition was immutable. The court considered heightened scrutiny to be particularly appropriate in this case, because the city's ordinance withheld a benefit which, although not fundamental, was very important to the mentally retarded. Without group homes, the court stated, the retarded could never hope to integrate themselves into the community.6 Applying the test that it considered appropriate, the court held that the ordinance was invalid on its face because it did not substantially further any important governmental interests. The Court of Appeals went on to hold that the ordinance was also invalid as applied.7 Rehearing en banc was

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denied [105 S.Ct. 3254] with six judges dissenting in an opinion urging en banc consideration of the panel's adoption of a heightened standard of review. We granted certiorari, 469 U.S. 1016 (1984).8...

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