Smoke-Free Public Housing

NYC C.L.A.S.H., Inc. et al. v. Sec’y of U.S. Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev. & U.S. Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev., 1:18-cv-1711 (D.D.C. July 23, 2018)

On July 23, 2018, N.Y.C. Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (“CLASH”) and six public housing residents sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Plaintiffs challenge the federal agency’s rule requiring public housing agencies (“PHAs”) to implement a tobacco use policy by July 30, 2018. PHA policies must prohibit use of combusted tobacco products (including waterpipes/hookah) in and within 25 feet of all public housing living units and common areas, and PHA administrative office buildings. PHAs may choose to include e-cigarettes in their tobacco use policies, but are not required to do so.

Fourth Amendment claims

Plaintiffs claim that the HUD rule violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable government search and seizure by allegedly authorizing PHA staff to enter a resident’s unit to investigate a potential policy violation. In addition, Plaintiffs argue that the HUD rule forces a public housing resident to relinquish these Constitutional protections in exchange for the discretionary government benefit of living in public housing and therefore violates the “unconstitutional conditions doctrine.”

Fifth Amendment & Fourteenth Amendment Claims

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution restrain government from depriving any person of their rights without “due process of law” (proper legal proceedings). Plaintiffs allege that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to engage in lawful activities in their home, and the HUD rule violates this right by authorizing PHAs to prohibit residents from use of legal tobacco products within their individual PHA units.

Tenth Amendment claims

The Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reserves to the 50 states and the people all powers not delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states, and prohibits the federal government from commandeering states to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. Plaintiffs allege that the HUD rule violates the Tenth Amendment by requiring state PHAs to implement and enforce a federal policy—namely, the HUD-mandated prohibition of tobacco use in state-run PHA housing and administrative buildings.

Commerce Clause claims

The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution limits federal government regulatory authority to activities affecting interstate commerce, i.e., transactions between states. In this case, Plaintiffs argue that the HUD rule regulates tobacco use only within a state PHA, and therefore impermissibly regulates an intrastate activity with no discernable relationship to interstate commerce.

Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) claims

The APA prohibits federal agencies from adopting rules exceeding their statutory authority, or rulemaking in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner, such as basing decisions on irrelevant factors. Plaintiffs claim that public health and safety regulations fall within the exclusive domain of the states as per the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment, and therefore HUD’s limitation on tobacco use for the benefit of public welfare exceeds the federal agency’s statutory authority in violation of the APA. Plaintiffs further claim that HUD based its rule on irrelevant criteria, including unsupported scientific principles (e.g., smoking in one unit could affect the health of the resident in the adjacent unit). Thus, Plaintiffs allege, the rule is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA.

Relief sought

Plaintiffs request that the court vacate the HUD rule, or in the alternative, modify the rule so as to remove the prohibition on the use of tobacco products in individual PHA units.

The Center will update this summary with HUD’s defense of the permissibility of its Rule upon agency filing the response in the District court.