US Supreme Court Decisions

Village of Willowbrook v. Olech


NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in thepreliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested tonotify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in orderthat corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES_________________No. 98-1288_________________VILLAGE OF WILLOWBROOK, ET AL., PETITIONERSv. GRACE OLECHON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OFAPPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT[February 23, 2000]    PER CURIAM.    Respondent Grace Olech and her late husbandThaddeus asked petitioner Village of Willowbrook toconnect their property to the municipal water supply.  TheVillage at first conditioned the connection on the Olechsgranting the Village a 33-foot easement.  The Olechsobjected, claiming that the Village only required a 15-footeasement from other property owners seeking access tothe water supply.  After a 3-month delay, the Villagerelented and agreed to provide water service with only a15-foot easement.    Olech sued the Village claiming that the Village's de-mand of an additional 18-foot easement violated the EqualProtection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Olechasserted that the 33-foot easement demand was "irrationaland wholly arbitrary"; that the Village's demand wasactually motivated by ill will resulting from the Olechs'previous filing of an unrelated, successful lawsuit againstthe Village; and that the Village acted either with theintent to deprive Olech of her rights or in reckless disre-gard of her rights.  App. 10, 12.    The District Court dismissed the lawsuit pursuant toFederal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to statea cognizable claim under the Equal Protection Clause.Relying on Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals for theSeventh Circuit reversed, holding that a plaintiff canallege an equal protection violation by asserting that stateaction was motivated solely by a "'spiteful effort to "get"him for reasons wholly unrelated to any legitimate stateobjective.'"  160 F. 3d 386, 387 (CA7 1998) (quoting Esmailv. Macrane, 53 F. 3d 176, 180 (CA7 1995)).  It determinedthat Olech's complaint sufficiently alleged such a claim.160 F. 3d, at 388. We granted certiorari to determinewhether the Equal Protection Clause gives rise to a causeof action on behalf of a "class of one" where the plaintiffdid not allege membership in a class or group.*    Our cases have recognized successful equal protectionclaims brought by a "class of one," where the plaintiffalleges that she has been intentionally treated differentlyfrom others similarly situated and that there is no rationalbasis for the difference in treatment.  See Sioux CityBridge Co. v. Dakota County, 260 U. S. 441 (1923); Alle-gheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. v. Commission of Webster Cty.,488 U. S. 336 (1989). In so doing, we have explained that"'[t]he purpose of the equal protection clause of the Four-teenth Amendment is to secure every person within theState's jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrarydiscrimination, whether occasioned by express terms of astatute or by its improper execution through duly consti-tuted agents.'"  Sioux City Bridge Co., supra, at 445(quoting Sunday Lake Iron Co. v. Township of Wakefield,247 U. S. 350, 352 (1918)).    That reasoning is applicable to this case.  Olech's com-plaint can fairly be construed as alleging that the Villageintentionally demanded a 33-foot easement as a conditionof connecting her property to the municipal water supplywhere the Village required only a 15-foot easement fromother similarly situated property owners. See Conley v.Gibson, 355 U. S. 41, 45-46 (1957).  The complaint alsoalleged that the Village's demand was "irrational andwholly arbitrary" and that the Village ultimately con-nected her property after receiving a clearly adequate 15-foot easement. These allegations, quite apart from theVillage's subjective motivation, are sufficient to state aclaim for relief under traditional equal protection analysis.We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals,but do not reach the alternative theory of "subjective illwill" relied on by that court.It is so ordered.* We note that the complaint in this case could be read to allege aclass of five.  In addition to Grace and Thaddeus Olech, their neighborsRodney and Phyllis Zimmer and Howard Brinkman requested to beconnected to the municipal water supply, and the Village initiallydemanded the 33-foot easement from all of them.  The Zimmers andMr. Brinkman were also involved in the previous, successful lawsuitagainst the Village, which allegedly created the ill will motivating theexcessive easement demand.  Whether the complaint alleges a class ofone or of five is of no consequence because we conclude that the numberof individuals in a class is immaterial for equal protection analysis.SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES_________________No. 98-1288_________________VILLAGE OF WILLOWBROOK, ET AL., PETITIONERSv. GRACE OLECHON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OFAPPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT[February 23, 2000]    JUSTICE BREYER, concurring in the result.    The Solicitor General and the village of Willowbrookhave expressed concern lest we interpret the Equal Pro-tection Clause in this case in a way that would transformmany ordinary violations of city or state law into viola-tions of the Constitution.  It might be thought that a rulethat looks only to an intentional difference in treatmentand a lack of a rational basis for that different treatmentwould work such a transformation.  Zoning decisions, forexample, will often, perhaps almost always, treat onelandowner differently from another, and one might claimthat, when a city's zoning authority takes an action thatfails to conform to a city zoning regulation, it lacks a"rational basis" for its action (at least if the regulation inquestion is reasonably clear).    This case, however, does not directly raise the questionwhether the simple and common instance of a faulty zon-ing decision would violate the Equal Protection Clause.That is because the Court of Appeals found that in thiscase respondent had alleged an extra factor as well-afactor that the Court of Appeals called "vindictive action,""illegitimate animus," or "ill will." 160 F. 3d 386, 388 (CA71998).  And, in that respect, the court said this case re-sembled Esmail v. Macrane, 53 F. 3d 176 (CA7 1995),because the Esmail plaintiff had alleged that the munici-pality's differential treatment "was the result not of prose-cutorial discretion honestly (even if ineptly-even if arbi-trarily) exercised but of an illegitimate desire to 'get' him."160 F. 3d at 388.    In my view, the presence of that added factor in thiscase is sufficient to minimize any concern about trans-forming run-of-the-mill zoning cases into cases of constitu-tional right.  For this reason, along with the others men-tioned by the Court, I concur in the result.

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