LaCrosse, WI resident fails to establish “class of one” Equal Protection claim

by Allison Arends

John G. Reget v. City of La Crosse
(Federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, February 8, 2010)

John Reget and the City of La Crosse have had a long harsh relationship regarding Reget’s operation of a body shop/ automobile restoration business. The conflict between Reget and the City began in 1985 and has involved several citations for code violations, all of which were dismissed. One example of this strained relationship occurred In 1990 when the City cited Reget for a violation of the junk-dealer ordinance. The citation was later dismissed by Reget’s promise to construct a fence around his property, a promise that was never fulfilled. A second example occurred In 1995 when the City aimed to rezone 100 properties (including Reget’s property) from “heavy industrial” to “residential”. Reget confronted the City claiming he was being singled out by the rezoning. Again, the City compromised with Reget and agreed to refrain from rezoning his property as long as he was to construct the promised fence as well as comply with noise ordinances. Reget agreed to both requirements.

In 2006 Reget filed a lawsuit alleging that the City and various city officials violated his equal-protection rights by: 1. selectively enforcing its junk dealer ordinance against him 2. targeting him for rezoning in a discriminatory fashion 3. selectively enforcing its noise regulations. The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgement, holding that Reget failed to establish that a similarly situated business was treated more favorably.

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, “prohibits state action that discriminates on the basis of membership in a protected class or irrationally targets an individual for discriminatory treatment as a so-called ‘class of one.'” The court clarified that the class-of-one theory must establish that (1) a state actor has intentionally treated him differently than others similarly situated, and (2) there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment. The court found Reget’s equal protection claim failed in the first step of the test because, “in order to prove a class-of-one claim the persons alleged to have been treated more favorably must be identical or directly comparable to the plaintiff in all material respects.” Reget did not provide evidence that similarly situated auto-salvage businesses were treated more favorably.

Although Reget presented examples of several other auto-repair shops in La Crosse that were not cited for violating the junk-dealer ordinance, there was no evidence that these businesses violated the ordinance at any time. Even more, the court noted that Reget’s citations were settled through voluntary agreements which cannot support a claim of class-of-one equal discrimination. The court also finds Reget’s claims that the City singled him out for rezoning irrelevant based on the fact that Reget’s property was never rezoned. Finally, in response to Reget’s claim that the City enforced noise ordinance requirements on him and not equally on his neighbors, the court found his claim to be “backwards.” He did not provide evidence that he was first cited under the noise ordinance and a similarly situated ordinance violator was not.

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