Braschi v. Stahl
74 N.Y.2d 201 (1989)

  • Braschi and Blanchard were a gay couple living together in a rent controlled apartment. Blanchard was the only name on the lease. Blanchard died.
  • The landlord (Stahl) notified Braschi that he was to be evicted because it wasn’t his apartment.
  • Braschi filed for a permanent injunction based on New York City Rent and Eviction Regulations 9 NYCRR 2204.6(d).
    • 9 NYCRR 2204.6(d) says that upon the death of a rent-control tenant, the landlord may not dispossess “either the surviving spouse of the deceased tenant or some other member of the deceased tenant’s family who has been living with the tenant.”
  • The Trial Court found for Braschi. Stahl appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that that the long-term interdependent nature of the 10-year relationship between appellant and Blanchard “fulfills any definitional criteria of the term ‘family.’”
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Braschi appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Braschi was not the spouse or a member of Blanchard’s family, therefore he was not covered by 9 NYCRR 2204.6(d).
      • The Court found that 2204.6(d) provides noneviction protection only to “family members within traditional, legally recognized familial relationships.” Since Blanchard and Braschi’s relationship was not given formal recognition by New York State, he could not be covered.
  • The New York Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and granted the injunction to Braschi.
    • The New York Supreme Court noted that the term family was not defined in the Statute, and there was no specific reference in the legislative history to the noneviction provision.
    • The Court looked to the legislative purpose underlying the enactment of the rent-control laws as a whole.
      • The Court found that it was reasonable to conclude that, in using the term ‘family,’ the Legislature intended to extend protection to those who reside in households having all of the normal familial characteristics.
        • The Court failed to recognize that in the 1940s, when the Act was written, homosexuality was illegal, nevermind encouraged.
    • The Court noted that the purpose of the Statute was more important that the language of the Statute.
    • Stahl unsuccessfully argued that a different part of the regulation (9 NYCRR 2520.6[o]) defines who is to be covered under the definition of ‘family’, but the Court rejected this argument, saying that it was a totally different provision, so it was irrelevant.
    • The Court found that Braschi still had the burden of proof that he and Blanchard were more than just roommates, so they remanded back to the Trial Court to determine if there was enough evidence to prove that Braschi and Blanchard had all the normal familial characteristics.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the plain language definition of a ‘family’ does not include a gay couple. In addition, the dissent felt that the majority opinion was against the legislative scheme underlying the rent control regulation.
    • The dissent noted that the term ‘family’ was used in conjunction with the term ‘spouse’, and therefore the two should be read together.
      • That’s an application of Noscitur a Sociis (it is known from its associates).
      • In addition, the dissent suggests that even though the regulation does not define ‘family’, Black’s Law Dictionary defines it. So why not use that definition?
    • The dissent also made a purpose argument, saying that the purpose of the Statute was to phase itself out over time. Adding more people to the process will only make the phase out take longer.
  • In this case, the Court chose to consider what the legislators would do now based on what they did then. This is different from classic purposivism, which would consider what the legislators meant then.
    • The definition of family had changed since the time the Statute was originally written, so do you interpret the law to encompass the current definition or the historical definition?
      • This is known as the meta intent of the Statute.
    • Modern legislators could have passed a law saying that the term family should now encompass gay couples, but they haven’t. Should their silence on the issue make a difference?