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LINDSEY ET AL. v. NORMET ET AL.

decided: February 23, 1972.

LINDSEY ET AL
v.
NORMET ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON.

Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun; Powell and Rehnquist took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: White

[ 405 U.S. Page 58]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question of whether Oregon's judicial procedure for eviction of tenants after nonpayment of rent violates either the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The material facts were stipulated. Appellants were the month-to-month tenants of appellee Normet*fn1 and paid $100 a month for the use of a single-family residence in Portland, Oregon. On November 10, 1969, the City Bureau of Buildings declared the dwelling unfit for habitation due to substandard conditions on the premises.*fn2 Appellants requested appellee to make certain repairs which, with one minor exception, appellee refused to do. Appellants, who had paid the November rent, refused to

[ 405 U.S. Page 59]

     pay the December rent until the requested improvements had been made. Appellee's attorney wrote a letter on December 15 threatening to "get a Court Order out on this matter" unless the accrued rent was immediately paid.

On January 7, 1970, however, before statutory eviction procedures were begun in the Oregon courts, appellants filed suit in federal district court under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 seeking a declaratory judgment that the Oregon Forcible Entry and Wrongful Detainer (hereinafter sometimes FED) Statute, Ore. Rev. Stat. (ORS) §§ 105.105-105.160,*fn3

[ 405 U.S. Page 60]

     was unconstitutional on its face, and an injunction against its continued enforcement. A three-judge court was convened under 28 U. S. C. § 2281, a temporary restraining

[ 405 U.S. Page 61]

     order was issued against the enforcement of the FED Statute, and appellants were ordered to make their rent payments into an escrow account during the pendency of

[ 405 U.S. Page 62]

     the District Court proceeding. A lengthy stipulation of facts was agreed upon, a number of exhibits and depositions were submitted, and the District Court then granted appellee's motion to dismiss the complaint,*fn4 after concluding that the statute was not unconstitutional under either the Due Process Clause or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn5 Appellants

[ 405 U.S. Page 63]

     promptly appealed, and we noted probable jurisdiction.*fn6

I

The Oregon Forcible Entry and Wrongful Detainer Statute establishes a procedure intended to insure that any entry upon real property "shall be made in a peaceable manner and without force." § 105.105. A landlord may bring an action for possession whenever the tenant has failed to pay rent within 10 days of its due date, when the tenant is holding contrary to some other covenant in a lease, and whenever the landlord has terminated the rental arrangement by proper notice and the tenant remains in possession after the expiration date specified in the notice. § 105.115. Service of the complaint on the tenant must be not less than two nor more than four days before the trial date, § 105.135; a tenant may obtain a two-day continuance, but grant of a longer continuance is conditioned on a tenant's posting security for the payment of any rent that may accrue, if the plaintiff ultimately prevails, during the period of the continuance. § 105.140. The suit may be tried to either a judge or a jury, and the only issue is whether the allegations of the complaint are true, §§ 105.145, 105.150. The only award that a plaintiff may recover is restitution of possession. § 105.155. A defendant who loses such a suit may appeal only if he obtains two sureties who will provide security for the payment to the plaintiff, if the defendant ultimately loses on appeal, of twice the

[ 405 U.S. Page 64]

     rental value of the property from the time of commencement of the action to final judgment. § 105.160.*fn7

Appellants' principal attacks*fn8 are leveled at three characteristics of the Oregon FED Statute: the requirement of a trial no later than six days after service of the complaint unless security for accruing rent is provided; the provisions of § 105.145 which, either on their face or as construed, are said to limit the triable issues in an FED suit to the tenant's default and to preclude consideration of defenses based on the landlord's breach of a duty to maintain the premises; and the requirement of posting bond on appeal from an adverse decision in twice the amount of the rent expected to accrue pending appellate decision. These provisions are asserted to violate both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Except for the appeal bond requirement (see Part IV, infra), we reject these claims.

II

We are unable to conclude that either the early-trial provision or the limitation on litigable issues is invalid on its face under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In those recurring cases where the tenant fails to pay rent or holds over after expiration of his tenancy and the issue in the ensuing litigation

[ 405 U.S. Page 65]

     is simply whether he has paid or held over, we cannot declare that the Oregon statute allows an unduly short time for trial preparation. Tenants would appear to have as much access to relevant facts as their landlord, and they can be expected to know the terms of their lease, whether they have paid their rent, whether they are in possession of the premises, and whether they have received a proper notice to quit, if one is necessary. Particularly where, as here, rent has admittedly been deliberately withheld and demand for payment made, claims of prejudice from an early trial date are unpersuasive. The provision for continuance of the action if the tenant posts security for accruing rent means that in cases where tenant defendants, unlike appellants, deny nonpayment of rent and may require more time to prepare for litigation, they will not be forced to trial if they provide for rent payments in the interim. A requirement that the tenant pay or provide for the payment of rent during the continuance of the action is hardly irrational or oppressive. It is customary to pay rent in advance, and the simplicity of the issues in the typical FED action will usually not require extended trial preparation and litigation, thus making the posting of a large security deposit unnecessary. Of course, it is possible for this provision to be applied so as to deprive a tenant of a proper hearing in specific situations, but there is no such showing made here, and possible infirmity in other situations does not render it invalid on its face.*fn9

Nor does Oregon deny due process of law by restricting the issues in FED actions to whether the tenant has paid rent and honored the covenants he has assumed, issues that may be fairly and fully litigated under the Oregon procedure. The tenant is barred from raising

[ 405 U.S. Page 66]

     claims in the FED action that the landlord has failed to maintain the premises, but the landlord is also barred from claiming back rent or asserting other claims against the tenant.*fn10 The tenant is not foreclosed from instituting his own action against the landlord and litigating his right to damages or other relief in that action.*fn11

"Due process requires that there be an opportunity to present every available defense." American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U.S. 156, 168 (1932). See also Nickey v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 393, 396 (1934). Appellants do not deny, however, that there are available procedures to litigate any claims against the landlord cognizable in Oregon. Their claim is that they are denied due process of law because the rental payments are not suspended while the alleged wrongdoings of the landlord are litigated.*fn12 We see no constitutional barrier to Oregon's

[ 405 U.S. Page 67]

     insistence that the tenant provide for accruing rent pending judicial settlement of his disputes with the lessor.*fn13

The Court has twice held that it is permissible to segregate an action for possession of property from other actions arising out of the same factual situation that may assert valid legal or equitable defenses or counter-claims. In Grant Timber & Mfg. Co. v. Gray, 236 U.S. 133 (1915) (Holmes, J.), the Court upheld against due process attack a Louisiana procedure that provided that a defendant sued in a possessory action for real property could not bring an action to establish title or present equitable claims until after the possessory suit was

[ 405 U.S. Page 68]

     brought to a conclusion.*fn14 In Bianchi v. Morales, 262 U.S. 170 (1923) (Holmes, J.), the Court considered Puerto Rico's mortgage law which provided for summary foreclosure of a mortgage without allowing any defense except payment. The Court concluded that it was permissible under the Due Process Clause to "exclude all claims of ultimate right from possessory actions," id., at 171, and to allow other equitable defenses to be set up in a separate action to annul the mortgage.

Underlying appellants' claim is the assumption that they are denied due process of law unless Oregon recognizes the failure of the landlord to maintain the premises as an operative defense to the possessory FED action and as an adequate excuse for nonpayment of rent. The Constitution has not federalized the substantive law of landlord-tenant relations, however, and we see nothing to forbid Oregon from treating the undertakings of the tenant and those of the landlord as independent rather than dependent covenants. Likewise, the Constitution does not authorize us to require that the term of an otherwise expired tenancy be extended while the tenant's damage claims against the landlord are litigated. The substantive law of landlord-tenant relations differs

[ 405 U.S. Page 69]

     widely in the various States. In some jurisdictions, a tenant may argue as a defense to eviction for nonpayment of rent such claims as unrepaired building code violations, breach of an implied warranty of habitability, or the fact that the landlord is evicting him for reporting building code violations or for exercising constitutional rights.*fn15 Some States have enacted statutes authorizing rent withholding in certain situations.*fn16 In other jurisdictions, these claims, if cognizable at all, must be litigated in separate tort, contract, or civil rights suits. There is no showing that Oregon excludes any defenses it recognizes as "available" on the three questions (physical possession, forcible withholding, legal right to possession) at issue in an FED suit.

III

We also cannot agree that the FED Statute is invalid on its face under the Equal Protection Clause. It is true that Oregon FED suits differ substantially from other

[ 405 U.S. Page 70]

     litigation, where the time between complaint and trial is substantially longer,*fn17 and where a broader range of issues may be considered. But it does not follow that the Oregon statute invidiously discriminates against defendants in FED actions.

The statute potentially applies to all tenants, rich and poor, commercial and noncommercial; it cannot be faulted for over-exclusiveness or under-exclusiveness. And classifying tenants of real property differently from other tenants for purposes of possessory actions will offend the equal protection safeguard "only if the classification rests on grounds wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the State's objective," McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 425 (1961), or if the objective itself is beyond the State's power to achieve, Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960); NAACP v. Alabama, 377 U.S. 288 (1964); Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963). It is readily apparent that prompt as well as peaceful resolution of disputes over the right to possession of real property is the end sought by ...


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