Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 15, 2014

LA Supreme Court Holds Restrictive Definition of “Family” is Constitutional

The City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge (“City–Parish”) filed suit in the district court on March 20, 2012 seeking injunctive relief against the defendant, Stephen C. Myers, to compel him to cease his alleged violation of the City–Parish’s Unified Development Code (the “UDC”). The defendant sought dismissal of the action for injunctive relief and asserted, both as an affirmative defense and as the basis for his reconvention demand for declaratory judgment, that the UDC zoning law’s restrictive definition of “family” was unconstitutional on its face and as applied, violating his state and federal constitutional rights of: freedom of association, by prohibiting individuals from residing together on his property unless they fall within certain classifications; freedom from intrusion by the government into his private life, by limiting the classes of people with whom he can conduct business and by imposing on him a duty to inquire into the familial status of prospective tenants contrary to the dictates of the federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The City appealed from the district court judgment ruling that the definition of “family,” for purposes of a local zoning ordinance restricting permissible occupancy of homes in a single-family residential zone, was unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The UDC defined “family” as: an individual or two (2) or more persons who are related by blood, marriage or legal adoption living together and occupying a single housekeeping unit with single culinary facilities; or not more than two (2) persons, or not more than four (4) persons (provided the owner lives on the premises) living together by joint agreement and occupying a single housekeeping unit with single culinary facilities on a non-profit, cost sharing basis. The court discussed that while the enumerated family types would seemingly allow a homeowner to have, in his “A1”-zoned home, an unlimited number of persons as co-residents who are “related” to him by blood, marriage, or legal adoption, the number of persons who may live in an “A1”-zoned home is limited to four persons when the homeowner’s co-residents are not all related to him. This circumstance, however, did not render the ordinance unconstitutional because the defendant has failed to demonstrate that he is treated differently than any other homeowner in the “A1” district. Furthermore, evidence was insufficient to support property owner’s claim that he had been unconstitutionally deprived of some part of his economic interest in his property because his potential profit as a lessor had been impaired by city’s unified development code’s zoning restrictions.

Finally, the court noted that the defendant was complaining of a violation of the rights of theoretical foster children and/or non-adopted stepchildren, not the violation of any right of his own. Because these claims did not complain that any rights of the defendant have been violated, the defendant did not have standing to urge these claims under the particular facts of this case. Accordingly, this court reversed the declaration of unconstitutionality and the denial of a suspensive appeal, and remanded this matter to the district court for further proceedings.

City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge v Myers, 145 So. 3d 320 (LA 7/1/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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