Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 10, 2011

Third Circuit Court of Appeals Finds Junkyard Owner Failed to Make a Valid Equal Protection Class of One Claim

Defendant served plaintiffs with an enforcement notice alleging that plaintiffs’ storage of junk vehicles without a permit violated a local ordinance.  Shortly thereafter, defendant served another enforcement notice which ordered plaintiffs to clean up the property.  Defendants brought enforcement proceedings but plaintiffs appealed the judgment and filed a complaint alleging the ordinance was unconstitutional because other similarly situated neighbors were not prosecuted. Both lower courts dismissed plaintiff’s claims because they failed to appeal the enforcement notices effectively waiving a challenge to the constitutionality of the ordinance.

Several years later, plaintiff applied for special exemption to the ordinance so they could expand their junkyard.  The Zoning Hearing Board denied this application stating that the plaintiffs did not meet their burden of establishing a preexisting non-conforming use.  Plaintiffs then brought an action asserting that the enforcement notices from several years prior violated their right to equal protection.  The court, however, disagreed and stated that the plaintiffs’ cause of action was barred under res judicata principles.  Plaintiffs appealed.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals court looked to Pennsylvania law but determined that despite a potential res judicata issue, summary judgment was properly granted in favor of defendants based on the merits of the equal protection claim.  Plaintiffs presented a “class of one” equal protection theory but there was insufficient evidence in the record that would allow a reasonable jury to reach a verdict in their favor.  Plaintiffs presented little in their arguments and failed to provide support that others who were similarly situated were treated differently.  Specifically, the Court concluded by stating “their insistence on not using ‘similar’ as a term of art is tantamount to a concession that they cannot establish an element of the claim.”

Sheddy Family Trust ex rel. Sheddy v. Piatt Tp., 2010 WL 5141750 (C.A. 3d Cir. 12/20/2010)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/094388np.pdf


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