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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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