City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Community Hope

PETITIONER: City of Cuyahoga Falls
RESPONDENT: Buckeye Community Hope
LOCATION: Lawrence County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 01-1269
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 538 US 188 (2003)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 2003
DECIDED: Mar 25, 2003

ADVOCATES:
David B. Salmons - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, in support of petitioners
Edward Kramer - Argued on behalf of respondents
Glen D. Nager - Argued the case for the petitioners
John H. Findley - for the Pacific Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae
Meriem L. Hubbard - for the Pacific Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae

Facts of the case

After the City Council of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio passed an ordinance authorizing construction of a low-income housing complex by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, a group of citizens filed a formal petition requesting that the ordinance be repealed or submitted to a popular vote. The voters passed the referendum repealing the ordinance. The Foundation filed suit, claiming that by submitting the site plan to voters, the City violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act. After the Ohio Supreme Court declared the referendum invalid under Ohio's Constitution, the District Court granted the City summary judgment. In reversing, the Court of Appeals found that the Foundation had stated a valid Fair Housing Act claim and that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the City had engaged in arbitrary and irrational government conduct in violation of substantive due process.

Question

Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that a low-income housing foundation's suit against a city for violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act could proceed to trial?

Media for City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Community Hope

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 2003 in City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Community Hope

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 25, 2003 in City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Community Hope

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 01-1269, the City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio verus Buckeye Community Hope Foundation will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In 1995, the respondents purchased land zone for apartments in the City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

They submitted the site plan to the City Planning Commission proposing to build multi-family, low-income housing on the property.

The City Council eventually approved the plan but strong public opposition to the project eventually coalesced into a referendum petition drive calling for the repeal of the city ordinance authorizing the project.

Pursuant to the City Charter, the filing of the petition for referendum stayed the implementation of the site plan until the final vote on the referendum.

While the petition was the pending, the City refused to issue respondents the building permits necessary to begin the construction.

Respondents brought suit in Federal District Court alleging that the city by submitting the petition to the voters and refusing to issue the building permits gave effect to the discriminatory sentiment reflected in the public's opposition to the site plan.

Thus, violating the equal protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteent Amendment, as well as the Fair Housing Act.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the City and its officials.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed concluding that respondents had produced sufficient evidence to go to trial on each of its claims.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we reverse in part and vacate and remand in part that decision.

Respondents have not presented an equal protection claim capable of surviving summary judgment.

Neither of the official acts respondent challenge reflect the intent necessary to support equal protection liability.

Both the decisions to submit the referendum petition to the voters and the refusal to issue the permit while the petition was pending constituted non-discretionary ministerial acts consistent with the City Charter.

Respondents point to no evidence suggesting that these acts were motivated by racial animus, nor did they demonstrate that the allegedly discriminatory private motives that triggered the referendum drive can fairly be attributed to the City.

Respondents also fail to present a valid substantive due process claim.

We need not decide whether they possessed a property interest in the building permits denied them by the City, because the city's refusal to issue the permits while the petition was pending in no sense constituted a egregious or arbitrary government conduct in violation of substantive due process.

Moreover, our precedent forecloses respondent's claim that the City's submission of an administrative ordinance to popular vote was per se arbitrary.

The City's voters retained the power to govern through referendum with respect to any matter, legislative or administrative within the realm of city affair.

Finally, because the respondents now have abandoned their Fair Housing Act claim, we vacate that part of the Sixth Circuit's opinion and remand the constructions to dismiss the relevant portion of the complaint with prejudice.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion which Justice Thomas has joined.