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Taylor v. Cisneros

December 6, 1996

SILAS TAYLOR, JR., APPELLANT

v.

HENRY CISNEROS, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT; BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF BAYONNE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, INTERVENOR



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civ. No. 94-06317)

BEFORE: MANSMANN, GREENBERG, and GARTH, Circuit Judges

GREENBERG, Circuit Judge.

Argued October 7, 1996

Filed: December 6, 1996

OPINION OF THE COURT

Silas Taylor, Jr., appeals from a final judgment entered on November 29, 1995. In his complaint he sought a judgment declaring that the actions of the appellee, Housing Authority of Bayonne, New Jersey, in terminating his tenancy and seeking his eviction in a proceeding in the New Jersey Superior Court, predicated on his convictions on pleas of guilty in a New Jersey municipal court to possession of drug paraphernalia on the authority's premises, violated certain of his constitutional rights. While Taylor originally also sought relief against the secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the issues relating to the secretary are not involved on this appeal and the secretary is no longer a party to the case. The State of New Jersey has intervened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2403(b) supporting the position of the Housing Authority. This appeal raises the question of whether the Housing Authority is barred from seeking Taylor's eviction by reason of his punishment for the possession of the drug paraphernalia in the municipal court by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment or the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The district court set forth the background of the case in its opinion reported as Taylor v. Cisneros, 913 F. Supp. 314 (D.N.J. 1995). Since 1988 Taylor has resided in an apartment in low-income housing in Bayonne, New Jersey, owned and operated by the Housing Authority. The Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes his rent so that he pays only $125 per month for an apartment with a fair monthly rental value of $706. Taylor is both hearing and speech impaired and his sole income is a monthly social security disability payment of $497. Consequently, he cannot afford to pay market rent and if evicted from the Bayonne apartment will have no place to live and will end up on the streets homeless.

On October 20, 1992, Taylor pleaded guilty to possession of narcotics paraphernalia in the Bayonne Municipal Court, a violation of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987, N.J. Stat. Ann. Section(s) 2C:35-1 et seq. (West 1995). Taylor committed this offense on the property of the Housing Authority in which he resides, though not in his particular apartment. On February 3, 1994, Taylor again pleaded guilty to the commission of the same offense, though he committed this second offense on a different day and on property next to that of the Housing Authority rather than on its property. The Housing Authority and the State do not contend either that Taylor possessed drugs on the Housing Authority property or that he distributed drugs. The municipal court sentenced Taylor to 30 days imprisonment and fined him $625 on the second conviction. While the parties do not specify the exact sentence imposed on the first conviction, they agree that it was similar to that imposed on the second conviction.

New Jersey is quite protective of tenants in residential units and has adopted an Anti-Eviction Act, applicable to both public and private housing, delineating the circumstances in which a tenant can be removed from a rental unit. N.J. Stat. Ann. Section(s) 2A:18-61.1 (West Supp. 1996). One such circumstance is where the tenant has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to an offense under the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987, N.J. Stat. Ann. Section(s) 2C:35-1 et seq., involving possession of drug paraphernalia "within or upon the leased premises or the building or complex of buildings and land appurtenant thereto . . . in which those premises are located." N.J. Stat. Ann. Section(s) 2A:18-61.1n (subsection "61.1n"). The parties agree that Taylor pleaded guilty to an offense within the foregoing category. Thus, without question, the Housing Authority may evict Taylor under the Anti-Eviction Act if the New Jersey courts apply the act as it is written.

Pursuant to the Anti-Eviction Act, on November 29, 1994, the Housing Authority served notice on Taylor that it was requiring his removal from its premises. *fn1 Taylor responded by filing this action in the district court under 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983, charging that his eviction would violate his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause because he previously had been sentenced in the municipal court for possession of the drug paraphernalia and that his eviction would violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. While he also claimed that his eviction would violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he does not raise that contention on this appeal. The Housing Authority then instituted a summary dispossession proceeding in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson County, Law Division, Special Civil Part, against Taylor seeking his eviction. The state court, however, on Taylor's motion, has stayed those proceedings pending the disposition of this case in the federal courts. As we have indicated, the State of New Jersey has intervened on behalf of the Housing Authority.

Inasmuch as the facts germane to this case are not in dispute, the district court decided the case on cross-motions for summary judgment. *fn2 Initially the court pointed out that the parties disagreed as to whether it should consider the constitutional questions as a facial challenge, or on an "as applied" basis, i.e., consider "the specific circumstances of Taylor's convictions and economic misfortune." Taylor, 913 F. Supp. at 318. The court concluded that inasmuch as the New Jersey state courts had not applied the facts to the circumstances of this case "it [was] inappropriate, from a prudential and jurisdictional perspective, to consider this an 'as applied' challenge." Id. Thus, the court treated the case as a facial challenge to the Anti-Eviction Act. Id.

The court then stated that "[s]tate action violates neither the Double Jeopardy Clause nor the Excessive Fines Clause unless it constitutes punishment." Id. at 319. Thus, the court considered whether proceedings under subsection 61.1n are intended to punish the tenant. The court said that the label put on a proceeding does not determine if it is civil or criminal, i.e., remedial or punitive, and that the court must "undertake 'a particularized assessment of the penalty imposed and the purposes that the penalty may fairly be said to serve.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 448, 109 S.Ct. 1892, 1901 (1989)). The court then cited Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602, 113 S.Ct. 2801 (1993), for the proposition "that for a measure to qualify as punishment, it need not serve solely retributive or deterrent purposes; rather, unless a sanction is solely remedial, it is punishment." Taylor, 913 F. Supp. at 320.

The court indicated that Taylor advanced the aspect of the Double Jeopardy Clause involving the protection "against multiple punishments for the same offense." Id. at 321. The court said that proceedings under subsection 61.1n were not intended to be punitive. In this regard, it pointed out that the eviction of "an insidious tenant is a rational and effective means of protecting all other tenants from activity antithetical to their health, safety and welfare." Id. The court also noted that because the legislature placed subsection 61.1n in remedial legislation, the Anti-Eviction Act, and because the act applies to both public and private landlords, subsection 61.1n is remedial. Id. at 321-22. The court held that proceedings under subsection 61.1n would not be punitive merely because of their impact on Taylor.

The court also held that the Excessive Fines Clause could not apply because the proceedings under subsection 61.1n were not punitive. The court then rejected the Due ...


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