Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham

PETITIONER: Joyce C. Thorpe
RESPONDENT: Housing Authority of the City of Durham
LOCATION: McDougald Terrace

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 393 US 268 (1969)
ARGUED: Oct 23, 1968
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1969
GRANTED: Mar 04, 1968

Daniel K. Edwards - for the respondent
James M. Nabritt III - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Joyce Thorpe, a tenant at the federally subsidized McDougald Terrace, was evicted after being elected president of the building’s Parents Club. The Housing Authority gave no reason for the eviction. When Thorpe attempted to learn the reason, her requests went unanswered. The Housing Authority of the City of Durham obtained a court order to force Thorpe’s eviction. Thorpe argued that she was evicted because of her activity with the Parents Club, in violation of her First Amendment rights, but the state appeals court and the Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the eviction.

While the case was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a circular which stated that all evicted tenants should be informed of the reason for their eviction. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case to the Supreme Court of North Carolina for a ruling in accordance with the circular. The North Carolina court refused to apply the circular on the ground that it was to be applied prospectively. Throughout these proceedings, Thorpe remained in her apartment.


May a tenant in a federally assisted housing project be evicted without notification of the reason when the Department of Housing and Urban development implemented such a procedure after the eviction had been initiated?

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

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 23, 1968 in Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham

Earl Warren:

Number 20, Joyce C. Thorpe, petitioner, versus Housing Authority of the City of Durham.

Mr. Nabrit.

James M. Nabrit, III,:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on certiorari for the second time to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of North Carolina affirming an order that petitioner and her four children be evicted from a low-income public housing project in Durham, North Carolina.

The question for decision is whether tenants in federally financed projects, operated under the United States Housing Act of 1937 as amended, may be evicted from their homes and their federal benefits terminated without being told any reason or given any opportunity to be heard in their own defense before the decision to evict is made by the Housing Authorities.

Now, let me emphasize at the outset that, in our view, the fundamental underlying question here is whether poor people who depend on the government for the necessities of life, for shelter, whether poor people will get the same kind of procedural rights and protections that our citizen -- that our system has long given to more fortunate citizens and their contacts with government administrators.

Abe Fortas:

Is that really the issue or an underlying issue here?

Do people who have leases with private landlords have the, as a constitutional matter, the right to for which you're contending here?

James M. Nabrit, III,:

No, Your Honor.

I wouldn't contend that.

I said --

Abe Fortas:

Well, where do you get --

James M. Nabrit, III,:

I said more fortunate citizens and their contacts with the government.

Abe Fortas:

That -- well, tell me about that.

Where do you get that flavor in -- on the constitutional aspects of this case?

James M. Nabrit, III,:

It's our position, may it please the Court, that it's a common place of administrative law when, in all sorts of situations, when a professional man's license is threatened to with revocation, when a security, as in the Goldsmith case or in the Willner case last year, if -- to get a notice in a hearing, it --

Abe Fortas:

Well, let's take a comparable case if we can think of one.

Let's suppose that the Department of the Interior has a -- lent a lease with a concessionaire to occupy premises in a park area, and the lease says that it's terminable, that this is a month-to-month lease and it's terminable upon 30 days notice, and there's no provision for notice or a hearing or a statement of the reason why the lease isn't being renewed.

Now, does the concessionaire have a constitutional right to be heard?

James M. Nabrit, III,:

Well, the thing that I -- the difference I perceive is the difference in the purpose of the program because the purpose of this program under the Housing Act is to provide housing for poor people.

It's a government benefit program.

So that, to the extent that there's -- that there are differences between government benefit programs and incidental programs to the management of connected with inc --

Abe Fortas:

I know --

James M. Nabrit, III,:

Programs could -- incidental to the management of government buildings.

You may have different principles to apply.

So, my argument is not addressed to that, Mr. --

Abe Fortas:

Well, I don't think that's important, Mr. Nabrit and this is a terrible important and new area of Constitutional Law to which you're addressing yourself now.

And, whether it is appropriate to analyze it in terms of giving the poor people rights that are given to their more fortunate fellow citizens or not is a problem of the utmost consequence, I think.

It's a matter of developing cons -- the developing application of constitutional principle.

And I, myself, believe that it's one that, and I'm sure you agree with me, that requires the most prayerful and careful analysis on the part of us and, perhaps, the game is not advanced when we merely refer it -- when we present a case like this in terms of equalizing the rights of the poor, vice versa the government, with the rights of the rich because you first have to establish, if I may respectfully suggest it to you, you first have to establish that there is a cognate or analogous right given to more fortunate citizens, vice versa their government.