Moore v. City of East Cleveland (1977)

Grandma gets jail time and fined for living with her son and grandchildren. Supreme Court rules for Grandma, reverses lower court in one of the decisions that established “a constitutional right to family integrity.”

Citation: 431 U.S. 494 (1977)
Date decided: May 31, 1977
Longer case name: Inez Moore, Appellant, v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio
Law type: Criminal
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Ohio
Topic(s):Civil rights: State, Family integrity, Fourteenth Amendment, and Housing
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Leonard Young argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Henry B Fischer. (Legal Aid Society of Cleveland)
Others involved:Melvin L. Wulf and Benjamin Sheerer filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Cleveland as amicus curiae urging reversal.
More info: “Brief History of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland”, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland:

Case Importance

Scholars have recognized Moore as one of several Supreme Court decisions that established “a constitutional right to family integrity.””

Case Details

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



Appellant lives in her East Cleveland, Ohio, home with her son and two grandsons (who are first cousins). An East Cleveland housing ordinance limits occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family, but defines “family” in such a way that appellant’s household does not qualify. Appellant was convicted of a criminal violation of the ordinance. Her conviction was upheld on appeal over her claim that the ordinance is unconstitutional. Appellee city contends that the ordinance should be sustained under Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U. S. 1, which upheld an ordinance imposing limits on the types of groups that could occupy a single dwelling unit.

Held: The judgment is reversed.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, joined by MR JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that the ordinance deprived appellant of her liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

(a) This case is distinguishable from Belle Terre, supra, where the ordinance affected only unrelated individuals. The ordinance here expressly selects certain categories of relatives who may live together, and declares that others may not, in this instance making it a crime for a grandmother to live with her grandson. Pp. 431 U. S. 498-499.

(b) When the government intrudes on choices concerning family living arrangements, the usual deference to the legislature is inappropriate, and the Court must examine carefully the importance of the governmental interests advanced and the extent to which they are served by the challenged regulation. P. 431 U. S. 499.

(c) The ordinance, at best, has but a tenuous relationship to the objectives cited by the city: avoiding overcrowding, traffic congestion, and an undue financial burden on the school system. Pp. 431 U. S. 499-500.

(d) The strong constitutional protection of the sanctity of the family established in numerous decisions of this Court extends to the family choice involved in this case, and is not confined within an arbitrary boundary drawn at the limits of the nuclear family (essentially a couple and their dependent children). Appropriate limits on substantive due process come not from drawing arbitrary lines, but from careful “respect for the teachings of history [and] solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society.” Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 381 U. S. 501 (Harlan, J., concurring). The history and tradition of this Nation compel a larger conception of the family. Pp. 431 U. S. 500-506.

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS concluded that, under the limited standard of review preserved in Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U. S. 365, and Nectow v. Cambridge, 277 U. S. 183, before a zoning ordinance can be declared unconstitutional, it must be shown to be clearly arbitrary and unreasonable as having no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare; that appellee city has failed totally to explain the need for a rule that would allow a homeowner to have grandchildren live with her if they are brothers, but not if they are cousins; and that, under that standard, appellee city’s unprecedented ordinance constitutes a taking of property without due process and without just compensation. Pp. 431 U. S. 513-521.

POWELL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 506. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 431 U. S. 513. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 521. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 531. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 541.

Excerpts from the opinion

East Cleveland’s housing ordinance, like may throughout the country, limits occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family. But the ordinance contains an unusual and complicated definitional section that recognizes as a “family” only a few categories of related individuals. Because her family, living together in her home, fits none of those categories, appellant stands convicted of a criminal offense. The question in this case is whether the ordinance violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Appellant, Mrs. Inez Moore, lives in her East Cleveland home together with her son, Dale Moore, Sr., and her two grandsons, Dale, Jr., and John Moore, Jr. The two boys are first cousins, rather than brothers; we are told that John came to live with his grandmother and with the elder and younger Dale Moores after his mother’s death.

In early 1973, Mrs. Moore received a notice of violation from the city, stating that John was an “illegal occupant” and directing her to comply with the ordinance. When she failed to remove him from her home, the city filed a criminal charge. Mrs. Moore moved to dismiss, claiming that the ordinance was constitutionally invalid on its face. Her motion was overruled, and, upon conviction, she was sentenced to five days in jail and a $25 fine. The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed after giving full consideration to her constitutional claims, and the Ohio Supreme Court denied review. We noted probable jurisdiction of her appeal.

The city argues that our decision in Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U. S. 1 (1974), requires us to sustain the ordinance attacked here. Belle Terre, like East Cleveland, imposed limits on the types of groups that could occupy a single dwelling unit. Applying the constitutional standard announced in this Court’s leading land use case, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U. S. 365 (1926), [Footnote 6] we sustained the Belle Terre ordinance on the ground that it bore a rational relationship to permissible state objectives.

But one overriding factor sets this case apart from Belle Terre. The ordinance there affected only unrelated individuals. It expressly allowed all who were related by “blood, adoption, or marriage” to live together, and, in sustaining the ordinance, we were careful to note that it promoted “family needs” and “family values.” 416 U.S. at 416 U. S. 9. East Cleveland, in contrast, has chosen to regulate the occupancy of its housing by slicing deeply into the family itself. This is no mere incidental result of the ordinance. On its face, it selects certain categories of relatives who may live together and declares that others may not. In particular, it makes a crime of a grandmother’s choice to live with her grandson in circumstances like those presented here.

When a city undertakes such intrusive regulation of the family, neither Belle Terre nor Euclid governs; the usual judicial deference to the legislature is inappropriate.

“This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Substantive due process has at times been a treacherous field for this Court. There are risks when the judicial branch gives enhanced protection to certain substantive liberties without the guidance of the more specific provisions of the Bill of Rights. As the history of the Lochner era demonstrates, there is reason for concern lest the only limits to such judicial intervention become the predilections of those who happen at the time to be Members of this Court. [Footnote 9] That history counsels caution and restraint. But it does not counsel abandonment, nor does it require what the city urges here: cutting off any protection of family rights at the first convenient, if arbitrary boundary — the boundary of the nuclear family.

Appropriate limits on substantive due process come not from drawing arbitrary lines, but rather from careful “respect for the teachings of history [and] solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society.” [Footnote 10] Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. at 381 U. S. 501 (Harlan, J., concurring). [Footnote 11] See generally Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U. S. 651, 430 U. S. 672-674, and nn. 41, 42 (1977); Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U. S. 123, 341 U. S. 162-163 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring); Lochner v. New York, 198 U. S. 45, 198 U. S. 76 (1905) (Holmes, J., dissenting). Our decisions establish that the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition. [Footnote 12] It is through the family that we inculcate and pass down many of our most cherished values, moral and cultural. [Footnote 13]

Ours is by no means a tradition limited to respect for the bonds uniting the members of the nuclear family. The tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children has roots equally venerable and equally deserving of constitutional recognition. [Footnote 14] Over the years, millions of our citizens have grown up in just such an environment, and most, surely, have profited from it. Even if conditions of modern society have brought about a decline in extended family households, they have not erased the accumulated wisdom of civilization, gained over the centuries and honored throughout our history, that supports a larger conception of the family. Out of choice, necessity, or a sense of family responsibility, it has been common for close relatives to draw together and participate in the duties and the satisfactions of a common home. Decisions concerning childrearing, which Yoder, Meyer, Pierce and other cases have recognized as entitled to constitutional protection, long have been shared with grandparents or other relatives who occupy the same household — indeed who may take on major responsibility for the rearing of the children. [Footnote 15] Especially in times of adversity, such as the death of a spouse or economic need, the broader family has tended to come together for mutual sustenance and to maintain or rebuild a secure home life. This is apparently what happened here. [Footnote 16]

Whether or not such a household is established because of personal tragedy, the choice of relatives in this degree of kinship to live together may not lightly be denied by the State. Pierce struck down an Oregon law requiring all children to attend the State’s public schools, holding that the Constitution “excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.” 268 U.S. at 268 U. S. 535. By the same token, the Constitution prevents East Cleveland from standardizing its children — and its adults — by forcing all to live in certain narrowly defined family patterns.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:54
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: |
Case internal status notes: Suggested by Colleen Cotter.