Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker (2002)

Supreme Court reversed Ninth Circuit ruling that HUD’s interpretation permitting the eviction of so-called “innocent” tenants is inconsistent with congressional intent under Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, as amended.

Citation: 535 U.S. 125 (2002)
Date decided: Mar 26, 2002
Longer case name: Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker et al.
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: California
Topic(s):Public housing
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Paul Renne argued the cause for respondents in both cases. With him on the brief were James Donato, Whitty Somvichian, and John Murcko.
Others involved:
More info:

Case Importance

From National Resource Center on Domestic Violence ( “This U.S. Supreme Court case is notable because it supports the idea that public housing authorities are required under U.S. law to have lease provisions that allow for eviction of tenant who is “innocent” of drug-related criminal activity, e.g. the tenant did not engage in the activity, did not know about the activity and/or it was not within their control. The Court explains that the U.S. Congress knew how to provide an “innocent owner” defense, but failed to do so in this instance. Of consequence, the Court explains that public housing authorities, while required to have the lease provisions, are not required to evict. “This case is important in its own right vis a vis drug activity and the no-fault of tenants. It is also significant because some may interpret it to apply also to any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other tenants – and approving of required lease terms here as well. Advocates will want to understand and make explicit the scope of the decision while emphasizing the approved discretion of public housing authorities not to evict tenants. Domestic and sexual violence federal law and policy make a compelling case for exercising this discretion so that victims do not lose their homes because a perpetrator uses violence against them.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



Title 42 U. S. C. § 1437d(l)(6) provides that each “public housing agency shall utilize leases … provid[ing] that … any drug-related criminal activity on or off [federally assisted low-income housing] premises, engaged in by a public housing tenant, any member of the tenant’s household, or any guest or other person under the tenant’s control, shall be cause for termination of tenancy.” Respondents are four such tenants of the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA). Paragraph 9(m) of their leases obligates them to “assure that the tenant, any member of the household, a guest, or another person under the tenant’s control, shall not engage in … any drug-related criminal activity on or near the premises.” Pursuant to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations authorizing local public housing authorities to evict for drug-related activity even if the tenant did not know, could not foresee, or could not control behavior by other occupants, OHA instituted state-court eviction proceedings against respondents, alleging violations of lease paragraph 9(m) by a member of each tenant’s household or a guest. Respondents filed federal actions against HUD, OHA, and OHA’s director, arguing that § 1437d(l)(6) does not require lease terms authorizing the eviction of so-called “innocent” tenants, and, in the alternative, that if it does, the statute is unconstitutional. The District Court’s issuance of a preliminary injunction against OHA was affirmed by the en banc Ninth Circuit, which held that HUD’s interpretation permitting the eviction of so-called “innocent” tenants is inconsistent with congressional intent and must be rejected under Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, 842-843.

Held: Section 1437d(l)(6)’s plain language unambiguously requires lease terms that give local public housing authorities the discretion to terminate the lease of a tenant when a member of the household or a guest engages in drug-related activity, regardless of whether the tenant knew, or should have known, of the drug-related activity. Congress’ decision not to impose any qualification in the statute, combined with its use of the term “any” to modify “drug-related criminal activity,” precludes any knowledge requirement. See United States v. Monsanto, 491 U. S. 600, 609. Because “any” has an expansive meaning-i. e., “one or some indiscriminately of whatever kind,” United States v. Gonzales, 520 U. S. 1, 5—-any drug-related activity engaged in by the specified persons is grounds for termination, not just drug-related activity that the tenant knew, or should have known, about. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling that “under the tenant’s control” modifies not just “other person,” but also “member of the tenant’s household” and “guest,” runs counter to basic grammar rules and would result in a nonsensical reading. Rather, HUD offers a convincing explanation for the grammatical imperative that “under the tenant’s control” modifies only “other person”: By “control,” the statute means control in the sense that the tenant has permitted access to the premises. Implicit in the terms “household member” or “guest” is that access to the premises has been granted by the tenant. Section 1437d(l)(6)’s unambiguous text is reinforced by comparing it to 21 U. S. C. § 881(a)(7), which subjects all leasehold interests to civil forfeiture when used to commit drug-related criminal activities, but expressly exempts tenants who had no knowledge of the activity, thereby demonstrating that Congress knows exactly how to provide an “innocent owner” defense. It did not provide one in § 1437d(l)(6). Given that Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue, Chevron, supra, at 842, other considerations with which the Ninth Circuit attempted to bolster its holding are unavailing, including the legislative history, the erroneous conclusion that the plain reading of the statute leads to absurd results, the canon of constitutional avoidance, and reliance on inapposite decisions of this Court to cast doubt on § 1437d(l)(6)’s constitutionality under the Due Process Clause. Pp. 130-136.

237 F.3d 1113, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except BREYER, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:46
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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