Pawn shop owner loses case based on ‘class-of-one’ theory

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

An Evansville pawn shop owner couldn’t convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the state singled him out for disparate treatment without a rational basis when it initially denied his application for a pawnbroking license.

William Saalwaechter, owner of Fares Pawn LLC, applied for a pawnbroking license with the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions. DFI’s director, David Mills, had just started the job when Saalwaecther applied for the license. So instead of making a decision on the application as is allowed under statute, Mills sent the application to the full board for consideration, but it was denied. The agency cited concerns about previous pawnbroking on the property and about his store manager’s criminal history. He eventually received the license after he signed a memorandum of understanding that he would comply with certain conditions, including not employ the store manager in question.

Convinced the license application process should have gone more smoothly, he sued the DFI in federal court alleging it violated the equal protection clause. He argued the state singled him out without a rational basis, the “class-of-one” theory, which rests on the premise that the equal protection clause requires at least a rational reason for the difference to ensure all persons are being treated alike under like circumstances and conditions.

The District Court ruled in favor of the agency.

“We agree with the district court that for each proposed  comparator, either no reasonable jury could conclude that Saalwaechter and the comparator were similarly situated, or there was a rational basis for any differential treatment,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote in Fares Pawn LLC and William K. Saalwaechter v. Indiana Department of Financial Institutions, et al., 13-3240.

The defendants also asked the Circuit Court to extend the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture to Indiana’s pawn-licensing scheme, or at least to Mills’ decision not to exercise delegated authority, both of which the defendants suggest also demand consideration of subjective, discretionary factors.

In Engquist, the Supreme Court held that public employees cannot bring class-of-one claims against their public employers because the theory is a poor fit in the employment context, which involves “discretionary decisionmaking based on a vast array of subjective, individualized assessments.”

The practical problem with allowing class-of-one claims to go forward in the public employment context is … “‘that governments will be forced to defend a multitude of such claims in the first place, and courts will be obliged to sort through them in a search for the proverbial needle in a haystack,’” Judge Joel Flaum wrote, citing Engquist. “Because ‘taking the equal protection route bypasses the administrative and judicial review procedures established to remedy arbitrary official action,’ such a task seems especially wasteful when Indiana already offers an administrative channel to challenge the wrongful denial of license applications.”

“Regardless, having sorted through this haystack and found no needle, the judgment of the district court is affirmed.”


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  2. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  3. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.

  4. While if true this auto dealer should be held liable, where was the BMV in all of this? How is it that the dealer was able to get "clean" titles to these vehicles in order to sell them to unsuspecting consumers?

  5. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless [ ] Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. GOD BLESS THE GOVERNORS RESISTING! Count on the gutless judiciary to tie our children down and facilitate the swords being drawn across their throats. Wake Up America ...