Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 15, 2014

Fed. Dist. Court in CT Dismisses Class of One Equal Protection Claim

Plaintiff Margaret R. Pappas, owner of a parcel of land in the Town of Enfield, brought this action against the Town of Enfield, Town of Enfield Planning and Zoning Commission (“Enfield’s PZC” or “PZC”), and four Commissioners, Anthony DiPace, Jeffrey D. Cooper, James A. Hickey, Jr., and Karen A. Weseliza, in their official and individual capacities. Pappas alleged that a subdivision application she submitted to Enfield’s PZC was improperly denied and violated due process, equal protection, and amounted to a taking of property without just compensation, enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Connecticut Superior Court ruled in Pappas’ favor, reversing the PZC’s decision, holding that the denial of Pappas’ subdivision application was “unreasonable,” “arbitrary,” an “abuse of discretion,” and “illegal” under Connecticut Law. Following that ruling, Enfield’s PZC granted plaintiff’s subdivision application as proposed, and Pappas now moved for money damages in this action.

In order to ultimately prevail on a “class of one” equal protection claim, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing an extremely high degree of similarity between themselves and the persons to which they compare themselves. The court discussed that this standard requires that each comparator to have an “extreme high degree of similarity” or be “prima facie identical” to the plaintiff’s application in order to be considered similarly situated, so that no rational person would deem the plaintiff’s application and comparators different. Furthermore, temporal disparity may undermine a potential similarly situated comparator, because nondiscriminatory reasons, such as policy change or a intervening event, may explain the difference in treatment over time. Because the court found the plaintiff’s “cherry picking“ of comparators based on only certain aspects to be insufficient, it held that the plaintiff failed to prove the “similarly situated” prong of her equal protection claim, and the defendants were entitled to judgment as matter of law.

As to the rational basis prong, the court stated that as long as one of the reasons advanced by the zoning board for its decisions is deemed a legitimate rational basis, the plaintiff does not have a viable equal protection claim. Here, Enfield’s PZC gave multiple reasons for its denial of Pappas’ application, based upon professional judgment, personal observations, and public commentary. Furthermore, the commissioners made their determination after extensive fact finding and deliberation, holding as many as four public hearings. Accordingly, the court found the plaintiff’s claim failed the rational basis prong as well, and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Pappas v Town of Enfield, 18 F. Supp. 3d 164 (D. Conn. 5/7/2014)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCOURTS-ctd-3_08-cv-00250/pdf/USCOURTS-ctd-3_08-cv-00250-2.pdf


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