Entries categorized "Equal Protection"

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.

Special Treatment and a Class of One

I don't have time to elaborate, but I'd like to hear from the section 1983 gurus.  Here's a legal theory I've been toying with for about six months.  What do you think?

Can a private citizen sue a government agency or actor under a class of one equal protection theory where the government office gives special treatment to one of its own - treatment that it denies private citizens.

We know that to state a claim under a class of one theory a plaintiff has to show that someone similarly situated was given special treatment.  What if a police officer or prosecutor is not prosecuted for a DUI, e.g., but a private citizen, in an identical fact pattern, is.  Or, what if a city official is able to obtain a zoning permit where as everyone else is denied those permits.  Hasn't the citizen - our class of one - been denied equal treatment under the law?

Could a criminal defendant move to have the charges dismissed because he was denied equal protection?  Could a plaintiff state a 1983 claim?

I realize there are a lot of obvious problems with this theory -- That's why I'm still experimenting with it.  Once I'm done with the bar, I'll share my research.  In the meantime, e-mail me or leave a comment.