Judge Kendall Allows A Plaintiff To Proceed On An Equal Protection Class of One Claim Based on the Filling of False Reports

In Ivy v Powers, 2009 WL 230542, January 30, 2009, Judge Kendall rulled that a plaintiff could survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss an Equal Protection Class of One claim, based on his allegations that officers filed false police reports and criminal complaints against him to cover-up for their alleged misconduct.

Judge Kendall explained:

[Defendants, relying on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture et al., ---U.S. ----, 128 S.Ct. 2146, 170 L.Ed.2d 975 (2008), argued that plaintiff's Equal Protection “class of one” claim is barred as a matter of law.] In Engquist, the Supreme Court held that the class-of-one theory of equal protection does not apply in the public employment context. 128 S.Ct. at 2151. In reaching its holding the Court reasoned “that there are some forms of state action which by their nature involve discretionary decision making based on a vast array of subjective individualized assessments” and “[i]n such cases the rule that people should be treated alike, under like circumstances and conditions is not violated when one person is treated differently from others, because treating like individuals differently is an accepted consequence of the discretion granted.” Id. at 2154. The Court went on to state that, “[t]his principle applies most clearly in the employment context, for employment decisions are quite often subjective and individualized, resting on a wide array of factors that are difficult to articulate and quantify.”Id. As an example, the Court stated that an equal protection claim on the ground that a traffic officer gave a speeding ticket to one person and not to others, even if for no discernible reason, would be incompatible with the discretion inherent in the challenged action. Id. Defendants' assert that the Engquist Court's analogy to the enforcement of speeding laws shows that Ivy's Equal Protection claim fails because Ivy's equal protection claim is premised on the decision of the Defendant Officers to arrest Ivy and that decision is discretionary like the decision to give someone a speeding ticket.

Here, however, unlike the Court's analogy in Engquist, Ivy does not base his Equal Protection claim on the Defendant Officers' decision to arrest him. Ivy bases his claim on the Defendant Officers' alleged decision to file false police reports and criminal complaints against him to cover-up for their alleged misconduct. This is different from the discretionary decision to arrest one individual among many (due to logistical reasons) as set forth in the Engquist analogy. “The paradigmatic ‘class of one’ case, more sensibly conceived, is one in which a public official, with no conceivable basis for his action other than spite or improper motive ..., comes down hard on a hapless private citizen.” Lauth, 424 F.3d at 633. Here, Ivy alleges that he was a “hapless” private citizen who was the victim of the Defendant Officers misconduct and that this misconduct was spurred by an improper motive, that is, covering up their alleged violations of Ivy's Fourth Amendment rights. Ivy's claim against the Defendant Officers is not based on their discretionary decision-making duties as police officers, and is therefore unlike the plaintiff's class of one claim in Engquist.

Further, Ivy's factual allegations in support of his Equal Protection Class of One claim are sufficiently plead and provide the Defendants with sufficient notice. Ivy alleges that by falsifying police reports and charging documents against him, the Defendant Officers treated Ivy differently than other persons subject to arrest by the Defendant Officers, that there is no rational basis for the different treatment and that the Defendant Officers acted with discriminatory intent by treating Ivy differently. These facts, if taken as true, at least plausibly suggest that Ivy is entitled to relief. Therefore, Ivy's assertions against the Defendant Officers are sufficient to state a claim for an equal protection class of one violation. See Craft v. Flagg, 2008 WL 1883337 at *3 (N.D.Ill.2008) (Gettleman, J.) (holding plaintiff sufficiently plead equal protection “class of one” claim where he alleged that officers treated him differently then other individuals by planting evidence on him).


Judge Kendall Rejects Plaintiff's "Class of One" Equal Protection Claim

Plaintiff was arrested on February 18, 2005 and charged with unlawful use of a weapon... According to plaintiff, "Holden, he was frightened when a male police officer pulled up behind him in a police car while he was urinating in an alley and yelled a racial epithet at him. He ran, scaled two gates, ran through a gangway and jumped onto Pulaski Avenue where he surrendered to two male police officers who arrived in a second marked police car.  Plaintiff further claims, "[o]ne of the two arresting officers grabbed Holden's leg and “snapped it in half,” making an audible noise, while Holden was lying on the sidewalk. The officer then threw him into the open door of the police car, slammed the car door against his head several times and punched his injured leg and eye.  Plaintiff claims that the officers "decided to falsely accuse him of a robbery."  The Officers deny any force and claim they "apprehended Holden and transported him to the police station."
At issue on Summary Judgment was "Holden's claim that he was treated differently than other individuals who have had interaction with police officers. However, at his deposition, he could not identify another person treated differently. Holden, however, suggests that some of the actions taken against him and statements made by the officers to him establish differential treatment.
Specifically, "Holden argues that he suffered discrimination as a “class of one” in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. He asserts that he was discriminated against because the officers abused him, did not send the allegedly recovered weapon for fingerprinting, and did not file a tactical report even though Department regulations require that weapons be fingerprinted and officers file tactical reports when they use force."
The Court rejected this claim and ruled: 
"To succeed on a "class of one" equal protection claim, the plaintiff must prove that: 1) he was intentionally treated differently from other individuals similarly situated; and 2) there was no rational basis for the difference in treatment or the cause of the differential treatment was “totally illegitimate animus” by the defendant." 
The Defense argued "that this case is ill-suited to Equal Protection analysis and that in any case, Holden has failed to adequately demonstrate that similarly situated individuals were treated differently. Generally, whether individuals are similarly situated is a question of fact for the jury, but courts may grant summary judgment when no reasonable jury could find that this requirement has been met.  To meet the similarly situated requirement, plaintiffs must prove “that they were treated differently than someone who is prima facie identical in all relevant respects.”
The Court held that "[s]pecific evidence of similarly situated individuals is necessary in class of one claims because individuals must be compared on a very detailed level to determine if they are in fact prima facie identical."  As such, the Court granted defendants' partial motion for summary judgment.  
Abbas Badruddin Merchant, Amanda Sunshine Yarusso, Blake Wolfe Horwitz, Horwitz, Richardson & Baker LLC, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.
Christopher A. Wallace, Liza Marie Franklin, Thomas Howard Freitag, George John Yamin, Jr., Thomas Jon Aumann, City of Chicago , for Defendant.

Holden v. A. Carey 2008 WL 4006753 N.D.Ill.,2008 (Kendall, J).