The Village of Euclid, Ohio appeals a lower court ruling in favor of plaintiff-appellee, Ambler Realty Co. (âAmblerâ) that its zoning plan is unconstitutional and granting an injunction forbidding the lawss enforcement. The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the lower court and upholds the constitutionality of the zoning plan, by a 6-3 decision, Justice Sutherland writing for the Court.
Facts of the Case: In the face of encroachment of industrial development from neighboring Cleveland, the Village of Euclid, Ohio passed a comprehensive zoning plan in late 1922. Ambler owned 68 acres in Euclid, which Ambler said it planned to sell and develop as industrial property. The Village of Euclid, however, instituted a zoning plan dividing the village into six classes of use districts denominated U-1 to U-6; three classes of heights, denominated H-1 to H-3; and four classes of area districts, denominated A-1 to A-4. In classes of use, the types of uses expand as the number classification increases, with each lower classification included in the higher classifications. U-1 is single family dwellings, parks, reservoirs and water towers, farming, greenhouses and nurseries. U-2 includes U-1 and two-family dwellings. U-6 includes sewage plants, heavy industry, cemeteries, prisons, etc. Amblerâs tract of land comes under U-2, U-3, and U-6 zones, with 620 feet north of Euclid in U-2, 130 feet north of that U-3 and the remainder in U-6. Lands lying North of Euclid are generally included in U 1 through 4, with most in U-2. One-sixth of the village is in U-5 and U-6 zones. As zoned industrial, the land has a value of $10,000 per acre, if limited to residential use the value is $2,500 and a portion fronting a main thoroughfare is worth $150 per front foot if unrestricted and $50 per front foot if limited to residential use. Enforcement of zoning is the responsibility of the building inspector with the zoning board of appeals hearing appeals.
Arguments: Ambler seeks an injunction forbidding enforcement of the zoning laws. Ambler claims that the entire zoning ordinance is unconstitutional in that it violates the 14th Amendment of the Constitution because it deprives the plaintiff of liberty and property without due process of law and violates equal protection of the law. Ambler further argues that (a) the zoning destroys a great part of the landâs value; (b) the plan is being enforced as written; (c) industrial companies will not purchase the land due to the need to remove zoning restrictions; and (d) the restrictions divert that the normal industrial, commercial, and residential development uses of such property to less desirable locations. The question Ambler asks the Supreme Court is: does the zoning regulation violate the constitutional protection of the right of property under the guise of the police power, which are unreasonable and confiscatory? Alfred Bettman, one of the founders of the American Planning Association, filed an amicus curia brief, focusing on the need to control nuisances.
Decision: The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the zoning ordinance. Its reasoning was:
Â· The Court cannot say the provisions of the ordinance are clearly arbitrary and unreasonable, nor that they lack substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.
Â· The exclusion of buildings devoted to business, trade, etc. from residential districts bears a rational relationship to the health and safety of the community. Some of the grounds for this conclusion are the promotion of the health and security from injury to children and others, facilitating the extinguishment of fires, enforcement of street traffic and other general welfare regulations, aiding the health and safety of communities, easing construction and street repair.
Â· Local governments began instituting zoning laws in the United States around 1900 as a response to larger and more concentrated populations.
Â· Regulations that 50 years ago would have been arbitrary and oppressive are now uniformly sustained, although a regulatory zoning ordinance that is valid in a big city might not be valid as applied to small towns.
Â· The Court grounded the decision in an analogy to the common law of nuisanceâs maxim âSo use your own as not to injure another’s propertyâ, which it said was a clue as to whether a regulation is valid. (The law of nuisance arises from the common law claim that another is infringing oneâs right of quiet enjoyment.]
Â· A decision as to the constitutionality of an ordinance must be made based on the locality and circumstance of the ordinance.
Â· The bright lines of zoning may forbid the location of beneficial industries as well as harmful ones, which the Court apparently believes is an acceptable cost.
Â· The Court does not rule on an applied challenge to certain aspects of the zoning, but rather on the ordinance as an entirety, which means the Court does not go through a piecemeal dissection of minor provisions, administrative matters, or tangential matters.
1. In Euclid, the neighboring land was zoned similarly, if not more strictly, to the plaintiffâs. However, each of the levels of use bears a strong resemblance to the level above and below. As the Court noted, in Euclid it did not go through a piecemeal dissection of minor provisions, administrative matters, or tangential matters. Instead, it answered a more general question after a more general review. If the Court had examined specific zoning provisions, the result might have been different. Under Nectow, I believe the tract zoned U-3 would have been the most suspect, as it did not match the neighboring tracts and allowed anomalous zoning.
2. The purpose of the Court in Euclid in bringing in the law of nuisance appears to be to ground zoning in the common law of nuisance so that its case law could provide philosophical underpinnings to serve as guidance in a new area of law. The law of nuisance is analogous to zoning law as nuisance law can be seen as governing the relationship of two or more individuals while zoning governs a townâs relationship with individuals.
3. Attacking zoning in its entirety in Euclid means that the plaintiff essentially argued that the zoning as laid out was unconstitutional, rather than a certain provision or its application being unconstitutional. A mere diminution of value may not have been enough to overturn the decision where the process and substance of the law were constitutional.
4. The Lochner Era was an era from approximately 1897 to 1937 in which the Court struck down a large number of economic regulations. Because the Court grounded Euclid in nuisance and saw it as a social issue, it is less surprising the Court upheld the zoning ordinance. That same era was also an era of strong movements in social engineering, including eugenics in the extreme.
5. The Nectow test appears to be that a zoning ordinance violates the Constitution if it (1) bears no substantial relationship between the zoning and the public health, morals, safety and welfare, (2) is serious and highly injurious to the landowner, and (3) is not indispensable to the general zoning plan. The parcel in Nectow appears to fit more appropriately within an industrial category. The low importance of the 65-foot parcel precludes a substantial relationship with public health, morals, safety, and welfare, and indispensability to the general zoning plan. Because the owner is seriously injured, the Court seems to be correct in its decision to overturn the plan, although if I were a residential owner on an opposite corner, I would believe the Court erred.
6. The Courts appear to care less about the overall schemes of Euclid and Cambridge that segregated uses than how the subject properties fit within those schemes. The Court did not pay attention as to whether the excluded uses were harmful.
9. The views of the Euclid and Nectow Courts against multi-family housing are out of date as are many other social engineering views of that era. The current trend is to more mixed use as a way to alleviate some of the ills that single use zoning wrought such as (a) the requirement that people have cars which has facilitated the breakdown of neighborhood bonds as people ride rather than walk and donât speak to their neighbors, (b) the isolation of the car-less such as youths, seniors, and the poor, (c) increased smog, and (d) wasted time in traffic.