Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 25, 2017

6th Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Religious Discriminations Claims Against Village Public Safety Department

Plaintiffs Donald Katz and Karen Markel filed suit against the Village of Beverly Hills, alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Village code enforcement officer Daniel Gosselin visited Katz as a result of a neighbor’s complaint. Gosselin advised Katz that he was not in violation of the municipal code, but suggested that Katz clean up the area in the spring. Katz sent an email to the Village to inquire “what the Village allowed for outdoor storage,” but in response a temporary code officer, David Brywa, issued Katz a citation for a code violation regarding the outside storage of pots and fencing. The Plaintiffs further alleged that the Defendant violated their equal protection rights through selective enforcement of ordinances, and that the treatment was based on their religious affiliation. The district court granted summary judgment to the Defendant on all claims, and the Plaintiffs appealed.
At the outset, the court noted that the Plaintiffs’ action was filed on April 5, 2013, and thus the relevant date for the statute of limitations was April 5, 2010. The district court held that the continuing violation exception did not apply because “the preponderance of the evidence does not establish that some form of intentional discrimination against Jewish individuals was standard operating procedure in Beverly Hills or among officers.” Because the Plaintiffs failed to show a policy of discrimination, the court found that the continuing violations doctrine did not apply and that all injuries that occurred before April 5, 2010 were time barred.
The Plaintiffs next argued that the Village treated the Plaintiffs and their neighbor Baker differently, and that this different treatment was based on religious discrimination in violation of their equal protection rights. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that the parties were treated differently because Katz was issued a citation by Bednarz for damaging Baker’s bushes, however Baker was issued three notices, not a citation, for having bushes that violated a municipal ordinance. Additionally, Plaintiffs pointed out that Baker’s violation was handled by a code officer and Katz’s by a police officer. The court found that the citation and notices involved the violation of offenses of unequal severity (a criminal misdemeanor and a violation of a municipal ordinance, which required different enforcement officers and procedures.
Plaintiffs lastly alleged that the Village officers violated due process by issuing Katz a citation without conducting a proper investigation. Here, while the court found that the officer conducted a “less-than-thorough” investigation before issuing Katz a citation, it held that the Plaintiffs had not provided evidence to show that the treatment was based on religious discrimination. Accordingly, because the Plaintiffs failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact existed regarding their municipal liability claim, the court affirmed the district court grant of summary judgment.
Katz v. Village of Beverly Hills, 2017 WL 360551 (6th Circ. CA 1/25/2017)

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