City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc.

PETITIONER: City of Edmonds
RESPONDENT: Oxford House, Inc.
LOCATION: Phoenix Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 94-23
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 514 US 725 (1995)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1995
DECIDED: May 15, 1995

ADVOCATES:
Paul Bender - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent United States
William F. Sheehan, III - Argued the cause for the private respondents
W. Scott Snyder - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In Washington State, the City of Edmonds' zoning code provides that the occupants of single-family dwelling units must compose a family, defined as "persons related by genetics, adoption, or marriage, or a group of five or fewer [unrelated] persons." Under the code, Oxford House, which operates a group home for 10-12 adults recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction in a neighborhood zoned for single-family residences, was issued a citation. Oxford House asserted that under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibits discrimination in housing against persons with handicaps, the city had failed to make reasonable accommodations permitting the maintenance of the group home in a single-family zone. Edmonds sought a declaration that the FHA did not apply to the city's zoning code. The District Court held that the city's zoning code rule defining family was exempt from the FHA under as a reasonable restriction regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Question

Does the City of Edmonds' zoning code provision covering areas zoned for single-family dwelling units -- which defines family as persons related by genetics, adoption, or marriage, or a group of five or fewer unrelated persons -- qualify for exemption from the Fair Housing Act?

Media for City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1995 in City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 15, 1995 in City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in number 94-23 the City of Edmonds v. Oxford House will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case concerns a provision of the Federal Fair Housing Act.

The provision totally exempts from the act’s requirements, reasonable restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.

The parties disagree on the breadth of that total exemption and so do the Federal Courts of Appeals.

The dispute before us involves Oxford House which operates in the City of Edmonds, State of Washington, a group home housing 10-12 persons recovering from alcoholism or drug addition.

The group home is located in a neighborhood zone for single family dwellings.

The City of Edmonds zoning code defines a family as related persons without regard to number or five or fewer unrelated persons.

Because the occupants of Oxford house are not related, the city charged that the group home violated its zoning code.

Oxford house asserts that its home in Edmonds is sheltered by the Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination against persons with handicaps, recovering drug addicts and alcoholics it is undisputed here, qualify as handicap persons within the meaning of the act.

The court of first instance, a Federal District Court in the State of Washington agreed with the City of Edmonds it ruled that the provision of the city’s zoning code defining family restricted the maximum number of occupants for dwelling and was therefore exempt from Fair Housing Act governance but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed that determination.

We granted review to settle the conflict illustrated by the diverse decisions of the District Court and the Court of Appeals.

We hold today that the Fair Housing Act exemption for rules setting the maximum number of occupants for dwelling does not sort the Edmond’s zoning code definition of family.

That definition describes who may compose a family unit?

It does not prescribe the maximum number of occupants a dwelling may house.

Rules of the later kind set absolute feelings, total occupancy limits not in relation to families but in order to prevent over crowing in dwellings.

Concluding that the City of Edmonds’ zoning code rule defining families does not qualify for the Fair Housing Acts absolute exemption, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Scalia and Justice Kennedy joined.