Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham

PETITIONER: Thorpe
RESPONDENT: Housing Authority of the City of Durham
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division

DOCKET NO.: 712
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 386 US 670 (1967)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1967
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1967

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1967 in Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham

Earl Warren:

Number 712 Joyce C. Thorpe, Petitioner, versus Housing Authority of the City of Durham.

Mr. Nabrit, you may proceed.

James M. Nabritt III:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case, likely, the case that had just been concluded, involves the housing rights of the disadvantaged citizens in our society.

However, this case which is here on certiorari from the Supreme Court of North Carolina involves no issue of state action.

It is conceded that the respondent, Housing Authority of the City of Durham, is an agency of the State operating under State statutes and operating a low-income public housing project under a contract with the United States.

The question presented here is also not one directly involving any racial discrimination claim, but rather the more general one of whether a public housing authority may terminate a tenant's housing benefits, entirely arbritrarily, without giving any reason, without being accountable at all for what it does.

John M. Harlan:

Before you go on with the nature of the argument, what about the events (Inaudible)

James M. Nabritt III:

Your Honor's question relates to our reply brief and to the regulation adopted on February 7th after our briefs were filed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the first part of our reply brief, we have set forth an argument which we think, would support the decision by this Court, reversing the decision below and setting aside this eviction on non-constitutional ground.

However, we urge that the Court consider the constitutional questions and exercise its discretion to decide them for several important reasons.

We think that first, it is vital and most important that the -- this Court may claim that the rights of public housing tenants under the -- are protected under the Constitution that -- that public housing tenants have rights which the Court will protect and which the Public Housing Authority must respect.

It's -- it's no accident, I think, that 30 years have gone by since this Federal Housing Program was first adopted, and this is the first case to come to this Court where the tenants were in a position to assert rights against the Public Housing Authority.

And that's because these are people who don't have the money to litigate cases and who will rarely have the opportunity to do so.

So it's most important that if their constitutional rights are going to be protected, they're going to have to be protected by the administrative agencies, and the way that the administrative agencies can be stimulated to act is through a judicial decision, that February 7th Regulation represents that.

It was only after this Court had granted certiorari that the longstanding policy was reversed so that --

John M. Harlan:

A new regulation was advanced (Inaudible)

James M. Nabritt III:

If that is correct, Your Honor, we agree.

If, and it's an important if, the new regulation is construed to clarify one or two ambiguities about the right to a hearing.

I had intended to perhaps it would be worthwhile at this time, Mr. Justice Harlan, since you have raised the issue, if I discuss this new regulation in some -- in some detail.

The --

William O. Douglas:

Does it purport to be retroactive?

James M. Nabritt III:

Your Honor, we argue that it's -- in part on the language of the regulation, but more on general precedence of the courts that this regulation can be applied to this case because it's a pending case and it's not final since it's here on the record here on certiorari.

Potter Stewart:

Well, in any event, there's no question that the regulation is now in effect.

Your client is still in possession of the premises?

James M. Nabritt III:

Yes, under the State.

Potter Stewart:

And if we vacated the judgment or remanded it or further action in the light of the current regulation why she would get the benefit of the regulation, wouldn't she?

James M. Nabritt III:

We -- we believe that the -- the trial court would be bound under the Supremacy Clause to recognize as a defense that this regulation, which is the one dated February 7, 1967 in our reply brief that this regulation which states that.

“It's essential that no tenant be given a notice to vacate without being told -- being told by the local authority the reasons for eviction.

That -- that a local court would have to honor that and say that a requirement -- that the Local Public Housing Authority coming into Court in violation of that rule couldn't prevail.”