Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 1, 2010

Second Circuit Dismisses Class of One Equal Protection Claim and Upholds Dismissal of Due Process and Facial Challenges

The Rustons filed a complaint in United States District Court for the Northern District of New York against the Village of Skaneateles, Town Board and Town Planning Board (Town Defendants) for unconstitutionally frustrating their development plans for building a subdivision and additional sewer hookups on their 27 acre lakefront lot. 

The claims included conspiracy to violate civil rights, violation of their substantive due process rights and violation of equal protection rights. In ongoing litigation. the district court dismissed the conspiracy and substantive due process claims with prejudice, but dismissed the equal protection claim without prejudice.  The Rustons then filed an amended complaint renewing all claims and the district court dismissed all claims again, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. 

On appeal, the Rustons argued they sufficiently asserted a “class of one” equal protection claim because Town Defendants, by refusing to consider their application and denying their requests to connect proposed new units to the Village sewer system, had intentionally treated them differently from other similarly situated parties with no rational basis.  Although they alleged that the defendants considered similarly situated parties applications and allowed other properties to connect to the Village’s sewer system, they did not provide specific examples of the Town proceedings, applications made, nor cite any properties similar to their own.  In order to succeed on a class of one equal protection claim, plaintiff must establish that: no rational person could regard the circumstances between parties different enough to justify differential treatment on the basis of a legit governmental policy; the defendant did not act by mistake; and the action at issue was non-discretionary.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the Rustons failed to meet these requirements because the properties cited were either commercial or residential single homes, differing in land use, type of housing and density levels, from their proposed 14- home development, and thus did not show an “extremely high degree of similarity.”

The court affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing substantive due process claim and the facial constitutionality of the new zoning law, because Rustons did not have a federally protected property right to Town’s approval of the sewer hookups or the development itself, and they failed to allege that no set of circumstances existed under which the law would be valid.

Ruston v. Town Board for the Town of Skaneateles, 2010 WL 2680644 (C.A.2 (N.Y.) 7/8/2010))

The opinion can be accessed here

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