ALEXANDER V. HUD, 441 U. S. 39 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alexander v. HUD, 441 U.S. 39 (1979)

Alexander v. United States Department

of Housing and Urban Development

No. 77-874

Argued December 5, 1978

Decided April 17, 1979*

441 U.S. 39


The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (Relocation Act) makes relocation benefits available for individuals and businesses that satisfy the statutory definition of a "displaced person." Section 101(6) of the Act defines that term to include

"any person who . . . moves . . . as a result of the acquisition of . . . real property . . . or as a result of the written order of the acquiring agency to vacate real property, for a program or project undertaken by a Federal agency."

Both of these cases involve tenants displaced from housing projects that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) acquired because the projects' sponsors defaulted on federally insured loans. Petitioners in No. 77-874 were dislocated by HUD's subsequent closing of an Indianapolis, Ind., housing project, and HUD refused to provide relocation benefits for these tenants. Petitioners then initiated this action in Federal District Court, claiming that they were "displaced persons" under the written order clause of § 101(6). The District Court rejected the tenants' statutory construction and granted summary judgment for HUD. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that § 101(6) encompasses only displacements for programs designed to benefit the public as a whole or to fulfill a public need, not dislocations caused by the irretrievable failure of a public housing project. Respondents in No. 77-1463 were displaced when HUD determined that a Washington, D.C., project should be demolished and the land sold to private developers. When HUD ordered the tenants to vacate but declined to extend assistance under the Relocation Act, respondents brought suit in Federal District Court. The court agreed that the dislocated tenants were covered by the written order clause of § 101(6), and granted summary judgment for respondents. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the written order

Page 441 U. S. 40

clause encompasses all persons ordered to vacate so that an agency's property can be devoted to a federal program "designed for the benefit of the public as a whole." Because HUD's demolition plans met this description, the tenants HUD directed to move were considered "displaced persons."


1. The written order clause of § 101(6) encompasses only those persons ordered to vacate in connection with the actual or proposed acquisition of property for a federal. program. Pp. 441 U. S. 49-63.

(a) Both the language and origins of the Relocation Act demonstrate that Congress intended to provide relocation assistance when property is acquired for federal programs, not to extend assistance beyond that limited context for all persons somehow displaced by Government programs. Pp. 441 U. S. 49-53.

(b) Similarly, the legislative history of the written order clause reveals no congressional intent to extend relocation benefits beyond the acquisition context. Rather, this clause was designed to ensure that assistance is available for a distinct group of persons directed to move because of a contemplated acquisition, whether the agency ultimately acquires the property or not. Thus, the clause applies only when a proposed acquisition directly causes issuance of the notice to vacate and the property acquisition is intended to further a federal program or project. Pp. 441 U. S. 53-59.

(c) The structure of the Relocation Act, as well as the statutory provisions specifying the benefits available for displaced persons, manifests the limited scope of § 101(6) and the written order clause. Pp. 441 U. S. 60-62.

(d) In essence, the written order clause embodies two causal requirements. First, the written order to vacate must result directly from an actual or contemplated property acquisition. Second, and more fundamentally, that acquisition must be "for," or intended to further, a federal program or project. In combination, these two causal requirements substantially limit applicability of the clause, so that persons directed to vacate property for a federal program cannot obtain relocation assistance unless the agency also intended at the time of acquisition to use the property for such a program or project. Thus, a program developed after the agency procures property will not suffice, even though it necessitates displacements, since that program could not have motivated the property acquisition. Pp. 441 U. S. 62-63.

2. Here, the relationship between HUD's acquisitions and orders to

Page 441 U. S. 41

vacate does not bring the tenants within the purview of § 101(6). Pp. 441 U. S. 63-67.

(a) The Relocation Act's legislative history demonstrates that the mere anticipation and authorization of default acquisitions in the National Housing Act mortgage insurance programs cannot render these tenants eligible for relocation assistance under § 101(6). By requiring that an acquisition be "for" a federal program or project, Congress intended that the acquisition must further or accomplish a program designed to benefit the public as a whole. Even assuming that the mortgage insurance programs constitute federal "programs or projects," default acquisitions arising out of those programs do not satisfy § 101(6)'s causality requirements. Although these default acquisitions occur as a result of the mortgage insurance programs' failures, they do not further the purpose of these particular programs. Pp. 441 U. S. 665.

(b) In addition, HUD's adoption of a property management plan cannot retroactively establish the requisite purpose for acquiring property in the first instance. P. 441 U. S. 65.

(c) Even though HUD's demolition plan in No. 77-1463 is the type of program or project to which § 101(6) refers, HUD did not acquire the project for that purpose. The statute requires more than a causal connection between the order to vacate and the demolition program. The program or project must also be the reason for acquiring the property. Without the requisite relationship between the demolition program and the acquisition, HUD's proposal for disposing of the housing project is no different than any other property management plan, insufficient by itself to confer eligibility under § 101(6). Pp. 441 U. S. 65-66.

No. 77-874, 555 F.2d 166, affirmed; No. 77-1463, 187 U.S.App.D.C. 156, 571 F.2d 590, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 441 U. S. 42

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