Firefighters Lose Challenge To Residency Ordinance

A section of the Charter of the City of Cleveland, Ohio requires that all employees must live within the Cleveland city limits. A group of firefighters challenged the ordinance on a variety of constitutional grounds.

Largely reciting well-settled case law dating back many years, the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the firefighters’ challenge. The firefighters first argued that the residency ordinance breached their constitutional “right to travel.” Quoting from a Supreme Court decision, the Court recited that the firefighters “claimed a constitutional right to be employed by the City while they are living elsewhere. There is no support in our cases for such a claim.”

The firefighters also contended that the Charter’s residency requirement violated their right to equal protection of the law. The Court found, however, that “the Supreme Court has held that municipal residency requirements such as that at issue in this case do not, on their face, constitute an equal protection violation.”

The Court also recited from an opinion of the Michigan Supreme Court discussing Detroit’s residency requirement that “a policeman’s very presence, whether actually performing a specified duty during assigned hours, or engaged in any other activity during off-duty hours, provides a trained person immediately available for enforcement purposes. This kind of ordinance is not irrational.”

The firefighters last argued that the residency rule was “void for vagueness” because it did not contain any standards by which the Cleveland City Council would grant a waiver of the residency requirement. The firefighters argued that the absence of standards would lead the City Council inevitably to grant residency exemptions on a discriminatory basis. The Court summarily dismissed the argument, holding that “discriminatory enforcement is no more invited here than it is in any other provision allowing the City Council to pass legislation. Accordingly, and again keeping in mind the less stringent standard of review under which we are operating, we conclude that the firefighters can prove no set of facts in support of their void for vagueness claim that would entitle them to receive relief.”

Association of Cleveland Firefighters v. City of Cleveland, Ohio, 2007 WL 2768285 (6th Cir. 2007).

This article appears in the November 2007 issue