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

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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.”
 

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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