Lindsey v. Normet 8212 5045

Decision Date23 February 1972
Docket NumberNo. 70,70
Citation405 U.S. 56,31 L.Ed.2d 36,92 S.Ct. 862
PartiesDonald LINDSEY et al., Appellants, v. Dorothea M. NORMET et al. —5045
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Appellants, month-to-month tenants of appellee Normet, refused to pay their monthly rent unless certain substandard conditions were remedied, and appellee threatened eviction. Appellants filed a class action seeking a declaratory judgment that the Oregon Forcible Entry and Wrongful Detainer (FED) Statute was unconstitutional on its face, and an injunction against its continued enforcement. Appellants attacked principally (1) the requirement of trial no later than six days after service of the complaint unless security for accruing rent is provided, (2) the limitation of triable issues to the tenant's default, defenses based on the landlord's breach of duty to maintain the premises being precluded, and (3) the requirement of posting bond on appeal, with two sureties, in twice the amount of rent expected to accrue pending appellate decision, this bond to be forfeited if the lower court decision is affirmed. The District Court granted the motion to dismiss the complaint, concluding that the statute did not violate the Due Process or the Equal Protection Clause. Held:

1. Neither the early-trial provision nor the limitation on litigable issues is invalid on its face under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 64—69.

(a) The time for trial preparation is not unduly short where the issue is simply whether the tenant has paid or has held over, and the requirement for rent security for a continuance of the action is not irrational or oppressive. Pp. 64—65.

(b) Appellants are not denied due process because rental payments are not suspended while the alleged wrongdoings of the landlord are litigated, as Oregon may treat the tenant's undertakings and those of the landlord as independent covenants. P. 68.

(c) Appellants are not foreclosed from instituting suit against the landlord and litigating their right to damages and other relief in that action, nor have they shown that Oregon excludes any 'available' defenses on the limited questions at issue in an FED suit. Pp. 65—66, 69.

2. Neither the early-trial provision nor the limitation on litigable issues is invalid on its face under the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 69—74.

(a) The State has the power to implement its legitimate objective of achieving rapid and peaceful settlement of possessory disputes between landlord and tenant by enacting special provisions applicable only to such disputes. Pp. 70—73.

(b) Absent constitutional mandate, the assurance of adequate housing and the definition of landlord-tenant relationships is a legislative function. P. 74.

3. The double-bond prerequisite for appealing an FED action does violate the Equal Protection Clause as it arbitrarily discriminates against tenants wishing to appeal from adverse FED decisions. It heavily burdens the statutory right of an FED defendant to appeal and is not necessary to effectuate the State's purpose of preserving the property at issue. Pp. 74—79.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

John H. Clough, Portland, Or., for appellants.

Theodore B. Jensen, Portland, Or., for appellees.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question of whether Oregon's judicial procedure for eviction of tenants after nonpayment of rent violates either the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The material facts were stipulated. Appellants were the month-to-month tenants of appellee Normet1 and paid $100 a month for the use of a single-family residence in Portland, Oregon. On November 10, 1969, the City Bureau of Buildings declared the dwelling unfit for habitation due to substandard conditions on the premises.2 Appellants requested appellee to make certain repairs which, with one minor exception, appellee refused to do. Appellants, who had paid the November rent, refused to pay the December rent until the requested improvements had been made. Appellee's attorney wrote a letter on December 15 threatening to 'get a Court Order out on this matter' unless the accrued rent was immediately paid.

On January 7, 1970, however, before statutory eviction procedures were begun in the Oregon courts, appellants filed suit in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking a declaratory judgment that the Oregon Forcible Entry and Wrongful Detainer (hereinafter sometimes FED) Statute, Ore.Rev.Stat. (ORS) §§ 105.105—105.160,3 was unconstitutional on its face, and an injunction against its continued enforcement. A three-judge court was convened under 28 U.S.C. § 2281, a temporary restraining order was issued against the enforcement of the FED Statute, and appellants were ordered to make their rent payments into an escrow account during the pendency of the District Court proceeding. A lengthy stipulation of facts was agreed upon, a number of exhibits and depositions were submitted, and the District Court then granted appellee's motion to dismiss the complaint,4 after concluding that the statute was not unconstitutional under either the Due Process Clause or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.5 Appel- lants promptly appealed, and we noted probable jurisdiction.6

I

The Oregon Forcible Entry and Wrongful Detainer Statute establishes a procedure intended to insure that any entry upon real property 'shall be made in a peaceable manner and without force.' § 105.105. A landlord may bring an action for possession whenever the tenant has failed to pay rent within 10 days of its due date, when the tenant is holding contrary to some other covenant in a lease, and whenever the landlord has terminated the rental arrangement by proper notice and the tenant remains in possession after the expiration date specified in the notice. § 105.115. Service of the complaint on the tenant must be not less than two nor more than four days before the trial date, § 105.135; a tenant may obtain a two-day continuance, but grant of a longer continuance is conditioned on a tenant's posting security for the payment of any rent that may accrue, if the plaintiff ultimately prevails, during the period of the continuance. § 105.140. The suit may be tried to either a judge or a jury, and the only issue is whether the allegations of the complaint are true, §§ 105.145, 105.150. The only award that a plaintiff may recover is restitution of possession. § 105.155. A defendant who loses such a suit may appeal only if he obtains two sureties who will provide security for the payment to the plaintiff, if the defendant ultimately loses on appeal, of twice the rental value of the property from the time of commencement of the action to final judgment. § 105.160.7

Appellants' principal attacks8 are leveled at three characteristics of the Oregon FED Statute: the requirement of a trial no later than six days after service of the complaint unless security for accruing rent is provided; the provisions of § 105.145 which, either on their face or as construed, are said to limit the triable issues in an FED suit to the tenant's default and to preclude consideration of defenses based on the landlord's breach of a duty to maintain the premises; and the requirement of posting bond on appeal from an adverse decision in twice the amount of the rent expected to accrue pending appellate decision. These provisions are asserted to violate both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Except for the appeal bond requirement (see Part IV, infra), we reject these claims.

II

We are unable to conclude that either the early-trial provision or the limitation on litigable issues is invalid on its face under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In those recurring cases where the tenant fails to pay rent or holds over after expiration of his tenancy and the issue in the ensuing litigation is simply whether he has paid or held over, we cannot declare that the Oregon statute allows an unduly short time for trial preparation. Tenants would appear to have as much access to relevant facts as their landlord, and they can be expected to know the terms of their lease, whether they have paid their rent, whether they are in possession of the premises, and whether they have received a proper notice to quit, if one is necessary. Particularly where, as here, rent has admittedly been deliberately withheld and demand for payment made, claims of prejudice from an early trial date are unpersuasive. The provision for continuance of the action if the tenant posts security for accruing rent means that in cases where tenant defendants, unlike appellants, deny nonpayment of rent and may require more time to prepare for litigation, they will not be forced to trial if they provide for rent payments in the interim. A requirement that the tenant pay or provide for the payment of rent during the continuance of the action is hardly irrational or oppressive. It is customary to pay rent in advance, and the simplicity of the issues in the typical FED action will usually not require extended trial preparation and litigation, thus making the posting of a large security deposit unnecessary. Of course, it is possible for this provision to be applied so as to deprive a tenant of a proper hearing in specific situations, but there is no such showing made here, and possible infirmity in other situations does not render it invalid on its face.9

Nor does Oregon deny due process of law by restricting the issues in FED actions to whether the tenant has paid rent and honored the covenants he has assumed, issues that may be fairly and fully litigated under the Oregon procedure. The tenant is barred from raising claims in the FED action that the landlord has failed to maintain the premises, but the landlord is also barred from claiming back rent or asserting other claims against the tenant.10 The tenant...

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