Petitioner: City of Cleburne, Texas
Respondent: Cleburne Living Center
Petitioner's Claim: That the decision to deny the Cleburne Living Center a special use zoning permit served a legitimate government need and the zoning ordinance was constitutional.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Earl Luna, Robert T. Miller, Jr., Mary Milford
Chief Lawyer for Respondent: Renea Hicks, Diane Shisk, Caryl Oberman
Justices for the Court: Harry A. Blackmun, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Byron R. White
Justices Dissenting: William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens
Date of Decision: July 1, 1985
Decision: Ruled in favor of Cleburne Living Center by finding that the denial of a permit was based on prejudice against persons with mental retardation. The zoning ordinance was declared unconstitutional.
Significance: No more groups were added to the intermediate scrutiny list. The ruling helped eliminate housing discrimination against the disabled and encouraged group homes.
Society has often isolated and restricted persons with mental retardation (MR) within institutions and hospitals. The American Association on Mental Retardation defines mental retardation as significantly below average intellectual functioning combined with problems in carrying out everyday life activities. However, people with MR range from those with disabilities hardly noticeable to others needing constant care.
By the 1960s group homes became a desirable living arrangement option. The homes allowed persons with MR to lead normal lives as much as possible by residing in a regular community setting. Twenty-four hour supervision and support was provided. However, controversy grew between organizations trying to establish group homes and existing neighbors. Neighbors' arguments against the homes varied widely from safety fears to potential economic effects on their property values. This scene played out in Cleburne, Texas.
Cleburne Living Center (CLC) sought to lease a house at 201 Featherstone Street to establish a group home for the mentally retarded. The home would house thirteen men and women with MR. They would be under constant supervision of the CLC staff. The city of Cleburne identified the group home as a "hospital for the feeble-minded" requiring a special use permit. The zoning ordinance (assigns particular uses to certain areas of a city) for the area required special use permits for construction of "hospitals for the insane or feeble-minded, or alcoholic [sic] or drug addicts or penal or correctional institutions." After a public hearing on CLC's application, the City Council voted three to one to deny CLC a special use permit.
CLC filed suit in Federal District Court charging the city's zoning ordinance was unconstitutional and, therefore, invalid (not legal). It...