The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a "class of one" equal protection claim filed by an applicant who was denied her application for zoning approval for a residential development in the City of Monona, Wisconsin. Miller v. City of Monona (7th Cir. 2015).
Miller initially applied for approval of a four-unit condo project on a lot she owned in Monona, but subsequently modified her application to a 10-unit project after buying adjacent land. The review process took a couple of years, and stalled in 2006 when negotiations and the relationship with the former mayor (an adjacent landowner) became strained and asbestos was found on the property. Miller was also cited with numerous code violations by the City. She corrected the code violations (and 3 of the 4 were dismissed in municipal court) and removed the asbestos and obtained a clean final inspection. When City refused to allow her to continue with her development, she filed a lawsuit claiming the City had violated her equal protection rights, among other claims.
The district court dismissed her equal protection claim, and she appealed to the 7th Circuit, which affirmed the dismissal. The Court first noted that it isn't enough for a plaintiff to suggest improper motive. If there is a reasonably conceivable rational basis for treating a plaintiff differently, that will defeat a plaintiff's class of one claim. In this case, the City had a legitimate basis for its actions - the asbestos and building code problems on her property. In light of the "great deference we afford to discretionary local decisions regarding land use" and the existence of these rational reasons for the City's actions against Miller, the court concluded that Miller's class of one claim must fail.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf