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Watkins v. Chicago Housing Authority

February 5, 1969

LORINE WATKINS ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Castle, Chief Judge, Major, Senior Circuit Judge, and Schnackenberg, Circuit Judge.*fn* Castle, Chief Judge (concurring).

Author: Major

MAJOR, Senior Circuit Judge.

This is an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief brought under 42 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1983, and 28 U.S.C.A. Secs. 1343(3) and 2201. The named plaintiffs, twenty-three in number, sued in a representative capacity on behalf of a class of approximately 32,000 families and 140,000 persons, all tenants of The Chicago Housing Authority, a municipal corporation created in conformity with the laws of Illinois (Ill.Rev.Stats.1965, Ch. 67 1/2, Secs. 2, 3 and 8), and financed in part by the Federal government. The appeal comes from orders of the trial court dismissing the complaint on the ground that the issues presented had become moot and denying plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.

The complaint challenged the constitutionality of two clauses in The Chicago Housing Authority's standard lease which gave the Authority the power to evict public housing tenants at any time merely by giving fifteen days' notice cancelling their lease. The clauses under attack are:

"After the original term [of one month] specified herein, this lease shall automatically be renewed for successive terms of one calendar month, until terminated by either party hereto by giving to the other party at least fifteen (15) days' written notice of such termination."

"Termination of this lease shall be by either party hereto giving to the other party hereto at least fifteen days' written notice of such termination. The exercise by either party of this power to terminate is unqualified and unrestricted, nor need any reasons be given therefor."

The Authority contends that by virtue of these clauses it may evict its tenants without giving notice of the cause, if any, for eviction and without permitting the tenant a hearing in which that cause, or lack of it, may be disputed. Plaintiffs contend that the clauses confer upon the Authority arbitrary power by which they and all other tenants were denied due process and equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

The complaint alleged:

"The individual plaintiffs each are tenants of the Robert Taylor Homes who have actions for eviction currently pending against them in the Municipal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and who bring this action on behalf of themselves, all other tenants with similar actions pending against them, and on behalf of all tenants of the Chicago Housing Authority."

The Authority moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction and failed to state a legal claim. In support of its motion, the Authority took the position that the clauses of the lease in dispute were constitutional and binding upon the parties. Consistent therewith, it claimed that it was legally entitled to evict its tenants on fifteen days' notice, with or without cause. At the time the suit was commenced, all named plaintiffs had been served with eviction notices and sued by the Authority in a State court. During the pendency of such suits, the Authority abandoned enforcement of its State court judgments against the named plaintiffs, and reinstated them as tenants. When this stipulation was called to its attention, the court dismissed the complaint upon the basis of mootness.

The contested issues as stated in plaintiffs' brief are:

"Was a class suit for declaratory judgment and an injunction against the 'no-cause' eviction clauses in a public housing authority's lease mooted by the Authority's abandonment of individual state court eviction suits brought against the named class representatives?"

"Does the due process clause of the 14th Amendment permit a public housing authority created as a state agency and partly supported by federal funds to evict its tenants without cause or without giving notice of the cause and the opportunity to rebut it in a due process hearing?"

Inasmuch as we conclude that the case was properly dismissed on the ground of mootness, we need go no further than to consider the ...


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