Arpa v. City of Ames

Decision Date27 July 2007
Docket NumberNo. 05-0463.,05-0463.
Citation736 N.W.2d 255
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Thomas G. Fisher, Jr. of Parrish Kruidenier Moss Dunn Boles Gribble Cook & Fisher, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

Kirke C. Quinn of Jordan & Quinn, P.C., Boone, and John R. Klaus, City Attorney, Ames, for appellee.

STREIT, Justice.

In an effort to stem the flow of students into residential areas, Ames, the home of Iowa State University, passed a zoning ordinance which only permits single-family dwellings in certain areas of the city. For purposes of the ordinance, a "family" is any number of related persons or no more than three unrelated persons. A landlord association brought a declaratory judgment against the City claiming the ordinance violates the equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution and the Iowa Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ames because it found the ordinance was rationally related to a legitimate government interest. We affirm.

I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

Ames Rental Property Association (hereinafter ARPA) is a corporation comprised of people who own residential real estate within the city limits of Ames. The members' properties include various houses located within areas the City has zoned for single-family dwellings. While many of these houses are sufficiently large to comfortably accommodate more than three people, section 29.201(62) of the Ames Municipal Code operates to prohibit ARPA members from leasing a given house, regardless of its size, to more than three unrelated persons.

Chapter 29 of the Ames Municipal Code is a comprehensive and detailed zoning ordinance enacted by the city in April 2000 to regulate the use of real estate within the City's boundaries. Section 29.701(1) restricts use of property in areas designated "residential low density" zones to "primarily single family dwellings."1

Section 29.201(51) defines a single-family dwelling as "any building consisting of no more than one dwelling unit, designed for and occupied exclusively by one family." The term "dwelling unit" is defined as "any building or a portion thereof which contains living facilities, including provisions for sleeping, eating, meal preparation and a bathroom."2 Ames Mun.Code § 29.201(54).

The controversy in this case focuses on the definition of "family" as provided by section 29.201(62). A "family" means:

[A] person living alone, or any of the following groups living together as a single nonprofit housekeeping unit and sharing common living, sleeping, cooking, and eating facilities:

(a) Any number of people related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or other duly-authorized custodial relationship;

(b) Three unrelated people;

(c) Two unrelated people and any children related to either of them;

. . . .

(Emphasis added.)

ARPA members have been cited with violating the zoning ordinance for renting houses to more than three unrelated persons. Members' tenants have also been cited.

In February 2004, ARPA filed a declaratory judgment in Story County. It requested Ames Municipal Code section 29.201(62), defining "family" for purposes of determining the use of houses within a "single family" zoning district, be declared in violation of the equal protection clauses and the takings clauses of the Iowa Constitution and the United States Constitution. Ames denied ARPA's allegations.

Ames filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted Ames's motion and dismissed ARPA's petition. ARPA appealed.

On appeal, ARPA asserts only its equal protection claim under both the Iowa and United States Constitutions.

II. Scope of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Tetzlaff v. Camp, 715 N.W.2d 256, 258 (Iowa 2006) (citing Keokuk Junction Ry. v. IES Indus., Inc., 618 N.W.2d 352, 355 (Iowa 2000)). ARPA acknowledges there are no facts in dispute. Thus, on review we must determine whether the district court correctly applied the law. Diggan v. Cycle Sat, Inc., 576 N.W.2d 99, 102 (Iowa 1998) (citing Putensen v. Hawkeye Bank, 564 N.W.2d 404, 407 (Iowa 1997)). We review constitutional claims de novo. Grovijohn v. Virjon, Inc., 643 N.W.2d 200, 202 (Iowa 2002).

III. Merits
A. Federal Constitution

ARPA argues Ames's zoning ordinance violates both the Iowa and Federal Constitutions. However, the Supreme Court has examined a more restrictive ordinance and held it did not violate the United States Constitution. Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 9, 94 S.Ct. 1536, 1541, 39 L.Ed.2d 797, 804 (1974) (holding a zoning ordinance limiting occupancy of single-family homes to any number of related persons or not more than two unrelated persons does not offend the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution). Undeterred, ARPA argues the Supreme Court will likely overturn Belle Terre if given the opportunity to do so. We will not be so presumptuous as to predict how the Supreme Court would rule if presented with this case. Belle Terre is still good law. Ames's zoning ordinance does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

B. Iowa Constitution

Nevertheless, we must still consider the ordinance under the Iowa Constitution. While the Supreme Court's judgment under the federal Equal Protection Clause is persuasive, it is not binding on this court as we evaluate the City's ordinance under the Iowa Constitution. Racing Ass'n of Cent. Iowa v. Fitzgerald, 675 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Iowa 2004).

The Iowa Constitution guarantees "[a]ll laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens." Iowa Const. art. 1, § 6. This provision "means similarly situated persons must receive similar treatment under the law." Grovijohn, 643 N.W.2d at 203-04 (citations omitted).

The first step of an equal protection claim is to identify the classes of similarly situated persons singled out for differential treatment. Id. at 204. Here, the classes are related persons versus unrelated persons living in Ames's single-family zones. ARPA members allege Ames's ordinance violates the rights of their tenants and would-be tenants to equal protection.3

If the claimed dissimilar treatment does not involve a suspect class or a fundamental right, any classification made by the statute need only have a rational basis. Id. ARPA concedes "[t]he district court properly concluded that the rational basis test should be applied." See Belle Terre, 416 U.S. at 6-7, 94 S.Ct. at 1539-40, 39 L.Ed.2d at 802-03 (finding zoning ordinance limiting number of unrelated persons per household involved neither a suspect class nor a fundamental right); State v. Seering, 701 N.W.2d 655, 664 (Iowa 2005) (stating freedom of choice in residence "is not a fundamental interest entitled to the highest constitutional protection").

Under the rational basis test, we must determine whether the ordinance in question is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. Racing Ass'n of Cent. Iowa, 675 N.W.2d at 7-8. Under this deferential standard, the zoning ordinance is valid unless the relationship between the classification and the purpose behind it is so weak the classification must be viewed as arbitrary or capricious. Id. at 8. A statute or ordinance is presumed constitutional and the challenging party has the burden to "negat[e] every reasonable basis that might support the disparate treatment." Id. The City is not required or expected to produce evidence to justify its legislative action. Heller v. Doe by Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 320, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 2643, 125 L.Ed.2d 257, 271 (1993). "A legislative judgment is presumed to be supported by facts known to the [city counsel], unless facts judicially known or proved preclude that possibility." Egan v. United States, 137 F.2d 369, 375 (8th Cir.1943) (citations omitted).

In the context of zoning, legitimate government interests include "promoting the health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community." Iowa Code § 414.1 (2003). Here, Ames articulated several bases for the zoning ordinance: "promot[ing] a sense of community, sanctity of the family, quiet and peaceful neighborhoods, low population, limited congestion of motor vehicles and controlled transiency." In Belle Terre, the Supreme Court found similar interests valid:

The police power is not confined to the elimination of filth, stench, and unhealthy places. It is ample to lay out zones where family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and clean air make the area a sanctuary for people.

Belle Terre, 416 U.S. at 9, 94 S.Ct. at 1541, 39 L.Ed.2d at 804. We agree governing bodies have a legitimate interest in promoting and preserving neighborhoods that are conducive to families—particularly those with young children. See Moore v. City of E. Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 503, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 1938, 52 L.Ed.2d 531, 540 (1977) (noting the Supreme Court's prior decisions established the Federal Constitution "protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition"); Callender v. Skiles, 591 N.W.2d 182, 191 (Iowa 1999) (acknowledging "promoting the sanctity and stability of the family" is a legitimate government interest). Quiet neighborhoods with a stable population and low traffic are laudable goals. Ames's objectives are therefore valid.

Next, we must determine whether the City's objectives are "rationally related" to the zoning ordinance in question. ARPA argues the ordinance "does not address the purposes relied upon by the city." ARPA explains:

[A]ny legitimate goal that the City seeks to achieve can be achieved by a narrower,...

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