Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 22, 2015

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Class-of-One Claim For Lack of Suitable Comparator

Stephanie Miller and her husband James Stellhorn, along with their co-owned company, Harlan LLC, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Monona, Wisconsin, and various public officials involved in their protracted effort to gain approval to build a condominium project. Miller raised claims of class-of-one and sex discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment, and unreasonable search of the property under the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the class-of-one claim, reasoning that Miller had not pointed to any similarly situated development project that had been treated more favorably. Although Miller proceeded, unsuccessfully, to summary judgment and trial on her other claims, in this appeal she challenged only the dismissal of the class-of-one claim.

For a class of one claim, a plaintiff will typically show an absence of rational basis by identifying some similarly situated person who was treated differently. Here, the court found that the district court’s first reason for rejecting the Metcalfe project as a comparator, the relative sizes of the two projects, was not persuasive because it would seem natural for the larger project to receive extra scrutiny. Despite this, the court’s second reason, that Miller’s property alone required asbestos removal was sound; the buildings on her property required multiple rounds of asbestos removal and eventual demolition, while the Metcalfe project was not alleged to have had any similar problems. Furthermore, it was clear from the first amended complaint that Miller’s property contained dilapidated structures requiring multiple rounds of asbestos removal which took more than half a year to complete, that she delayed her compliance with local code-enforcement efforts, and that a municipal court ultimately held that she had violated Monona’s building code by beginning demolition without proper permitting. For all of these facts, however, Miller’s complaint stated rational reasons for the government officials’ actions. Therefore, the judgment dismissing the class of one claim was affirmed.  

Miller v City of Monona, 2015 WL 1947886 (7th Cir. 5/1/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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