Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker

PETITIONER: Department of Housing and Urban Development
RESPONDENT: Rucker
LOCATION: The Cleveland Metropolitan School District

DOCKET NO.: 00-1770
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 535 US 125 (2002)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 2002
DECIDED: Mar 26, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Gary T. LaFayette - Argued the cause for the petitioners in No. 00-1781
James A. Feldman - Argued the cause for the petitioner in No. 00-1770
Kirsten D. Levingston - for the Coalition to Protect Public Housing et al. as amici curiae
Martha F. Davis - for the Coalition to Protect Public Housing et al. as amici curiae
Michael S. Feldberg - for the Coalition to Protect Public Housing et al. as amici curiae
Paul A. Renne - Argued the cause for the respondents
Paul Renne - argued the cause for respondents in both cases

Facts of the case

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, as amended, provides that each "public housing agency shall utilize leases...providing 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." Paragraph 9(m) of the leases of the tenants of the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) 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." After the relations of four tenants were linked to drug activity, 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. The tenants filed an action, arguing that the Act does not require lease terms authorizing the eviction of the "innocent" tenants. The District Court's issuance of a preliminary injunction against OHA was affirmed by an en banc Court of Appeals.

Question

Does the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, as amended, allow local public housing agencies to evict tenants for drug-related activity of non-tenant relatives or guests regardless of whether tenants knew, or should have known, about the activity?

Media for Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 2002 in Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 26, 2002 in Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 00-1770, Department of Housing and Urban Development versus Rucker.

With drug dealers increasingly imposing a reign of terror on public and other federally assisted law-income housing tenants as Congress put it, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.

The Act states that each public housing agency shall use leases providing that any drug-related criminal activity on or off the 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.

The open-housing authority included this language and its leases.

In 1997, 1998, the Housing Authority instituted an eviction proceedings against the four respondents in this case who are tenants alleging violations of the lease provision.

The complaint alleged that the grandsons of the two of the tenants were caught in the apartment complex parking lot smoking marijuana.

The daughter of another tenant was found with cocaine three blocks from the apartment, and then on three occasions the caretaker of still another tenant was found with cocaine in his apartment.

Department Regulations state that a local public Housing Authority’s discretion to evict tenants for drug-related activity includes those situations wherein which the tenant did not know could not foresee or could not control behavior of other occupants of the unit.

After the eviction proceedings were initiated in State Court, the tenants brought this action in the Federal Court against both HUD and the Authority, arguing that the statute does not permit eviction when a tenant did not know of and had not reason to know of the drug activity.

The District Court issued an injunction in joining the Housing Authority from terminating the leases of tenants.

A divided en banc panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse that judgment.

The statute unambiguously requires lease terms that give local public Housing Authorities the discretion to evict tenants for drug-related activity of household members and guest regardless of whether the tenant know or should have known about the activity.

The statute uses the word any which has an expansive meaning.

Any drug-related activity engaged in by the specified person's ground for termination not just drug-related activity that the tenant knew of.

This plain reading of the statute does not lead to observe results as the Court of Appeals thought.

No-fault eviction is a common feature of landlord tenant law and maximizes deterrence.

It also serves Congress’ purpose of ridding public housing projects off drug activity, whether or not a tenant has knowledge of the drug activity committed by members of a tenant’s household or guest creates a dangerous environment for other residents.

Nor does the statute raise significant constitutional concerns as the Court of Appeals thought.

A Housing Authority is not imposing criminal or civil liability on a tenant for the acts of others; it is instead acting as a landlord of property it owns and invoking a least cost towards the tenant is agreed.

There is no indication that guarantees the procedural due process had been denied in the State proceedings where the eviction will eventually be decided.

All members of the Court have joined in this opinion except Justice Breyer who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.