The Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause essentially requires that “all people similarly situated should be treated alike.” In practice, this has been focused on discrimination based on classifications such as race, religion, national origin, etc. There are, however, other types of equal protection claims that can be brought. One such claim is the focus of today’s post: the “Class of One” equal protection claim.
In examining this claim, we will do so through the lens of Abramson v Gettel, 2014 WL 6694505 (S.D.N.Y. 2014). To succeed on a “Class of One” claim, a plaintiff must establish that “(1) no rational person could regard the circumstances of the plaintiff to differ from those of a comparator to a degree that would justify the differential treatment on the basis of a legitimate government policy; and (2) the similarity in circumstances and difference in treatment are sufficient to exclude the possibility that the defendants acted on the basis of mistake.” This requires a particularly high degree of similarity to be shown, not an easy standard to meet. In the Abramson case, the claim was brought by a concert promoter operating in the area where Woodstock was held, alleging another promoter was given preferential treatment by the Town. Yet in reviewing this case, the court found the properties had different zoning and land use rights, as well as a history of the plaintiff violating the Town’s regulations, making a comparison impossible. This was the case even though both companies would hold music festivals, and at times these would even be competing events.
While the “Class of One” case can be a viable way to pursue an Equal Protection claim absent a suspect class, doing so is difficult and thus it is an uncommon route to take. That said, if you can show a sufficiently similar party receiving substantially different treatment, it may be worth pursuing.