Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 16, 2019

Fed. Dist. Court in TN Rejects Selective Enforcement Claims Brought by Muslim Property Owner

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Plaintiff William Straser and the City of Athens, was engaged in an ongoing dispute regarding the location of the carport attached to his house from May 2011 and continuing sporadically through February 2017. During this time, plaintiff received four letters from the City notifying him that the carport was in violation of the 30-foot setback and it would need to be relocated or removed. In April 2017, plaintiff received a citation from the Athens Police Department asserting that his carport was in violation of the City’s zoning ordinance. Plaintiff claimed that his constitutional rights to equal protection under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution had been violated by the City, Gene McConkey, the Building Inspector for the City of Athens, and Chris Trew, the Athens City Attorney. The Athens Municipal Court ruled in favor of the City, and plaintiff appealed.

The proposed amendment to the complaint asserted that Mr. Trew violated plaintiff’s equal protection rights by enforcing the zoning ordinance against him based on plaintiff’s race and/or religion. Assuming that plaintiff could meet the first element of selective enforcement, however, the court found he had no evidence that Mr. Trew initiated the prosecution of the ordinance with a discriminatory purpose. In support of his claim, plaintiff relied on the telephone conversation between his previous attorney, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Trew in May 2017, in which Mr. Trew stated, “we had trouble with a Muslim”. Even if Mr. Trew made that statement, the record reflected that the substance of this conversation was that the City would not give plaintiff preferential treatment or make an exception for him.

The court further found that there was no evidence that the City’s enforcement of the zoning ordinance has had a discriminatory effect on Christians within the City of Athens. Plaintiff himself testified that he was unaware of any other Christians that had been discriminated against by the City of Athens. Plaintiff further acknowledged that the City had enforced the ordinance against at least one Christian and one Muslim. As such, the court found the plaintiff failed to present any evidence of the third element required for a selective enforcement claim. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted on this claim in favor of the defendant.

Straser v City of Athens, 2019 WL 2505036 (E.D TN 6/17/2019)


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