Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. Case Brief

Summary of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.


Texas city denied a special permit required for the operation of a group home for the mentally retarded.

Issue and Holding:

Does the ordinance requiring special ordinance for mentally retarded but not for other types of similar dwellings (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) violate the EPC? Yes, there is no rational basis for the ordinance.


The mentally retarded aren’t a suspect or quasi-suspect class because there’s no history of prejudice, they aren’t politically powerless, lawmakers have been addressing the problem of discrimination against the mentally retarded, and there are legitimate differences that the state must take into account. So, apply RR test.


  1. Council was concerned with the attitude of the property owners around the facility
    1. But mere negative attitudes isn’t a permissible reason for treating a group differently
  2. Council was concerned that junior high students across the street might harass the occupants
    1. But there are mentally retarded in the school.
    2. Also, denying a permit based on unfounded fears isn’t rational
  3. Concern with the possibility of a flood
    1. But this would apply to anyone who builds on the lot of land, and no one else is required to get a permit.
  4. Council is concerned with the size of the home
    1. But, there is no size restriction on any other type of building that would be built on the same land.

Because the law requiring homes for the mentally retarded to get a special permit is based on irrational prejudice, it doesn’t pass the RR test.


Law is unconstitutional as it is applied in this case.

Marshall concur/dissent:

  • It seems that the court is applying something more than the RR test (because under the RR test, the city is allowed to address a problem one step at a time). But that’s okay with me—I think it should get something more than RR. The level of scrutiny should vary according to the importance of the interest that is at stake.
  • The ordinance sweeps too broadly. I believe instead of just saying the law is unconstitutionally applied, I think it should be struck down all together.

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