Legal Writing Blog
What Would Darrow Do?

Important Class-of-One Case

Today a unanimous three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit handed down an important class-of-one opinion, Lauth v. McCollum, No. 04-3782.  Under the Equal Protection Clause, no person can be denied equal protection of the laws.  Generally, the Equal Protection Clause only applies where a person can show that he is a) part of a protected class, and b) is being discriminated against because of his class membership.  A couple of years ago the Supreme Court held that a person not belonging to a protected class could sue under the Equal Protection Clause if a government actor treated him irrationally and differently.  The person being mistreated belongs to a "class of one." In other words, under the "class of one" theory, it violates the Equal Protection Clause for a government actor to treat you differently than others similarly situated, just because the government official doesn't like you.

Let's say "George" wants to build a deck.  His permit application is denied because someone at city hall hates his guts, but George's neighbor's permit application is granted.  George can sue under a class-of-one theory since he has been treated differently from others similarly situated (in this case, homeowners), and because his disparate treatment was irrational.

At issue in Lauth was whether an employee can sue under a class of one Equal Protection theory.  The panel virtually eliminated class-of-one cases brought by government employees.  It's a short opinion, so click here to read the panel's reasoning.