GEINOSKY v. CITY OF CHICAGO (March 28, 2012)
Mark Geinosky received 24 parking tickets from the City of Chicago between October 2007 and the end of 2008. They were all illegitimate and they were all written by officers from the same police unit. Although Geinosky was able to get them all dismissed, he complained to the Police Department. Receiving no satisfaction, he contacted the Chicago Tribune and also filed suit. He named the City of Chicago and eight individual officers alleging an Equal Protection "class of one" claim, a substantive due process claim, and a civil conspiracy claim. Judge Darrah (N.D. Ill.) dismissed his claims for failure to state a cause of action. Geinosky appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Posner, Wood, and Hamilton reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. The Court first addressed the "class of one" claim. Under the Equal Protection Clause, a person can bring a claim alleging that he was treated different from others who are similarly situated without a rational basis. These claims are appropriate when the allegations are that law enforcement engaged in irrational and malicious application of law. The Court noted that there must be limitations in order to not transform every incident of improper conduct into a constitutional claim. The limitations depend on the type of claim. For example, the Court noted that "class of one" claims are not recognized in the public employment context. The requirement that a plaintiff point to a similarly situated individual treated differently is a limitation when the complaint has to do with a governmental prosecution or investigation. The district court relied on Geinosky's failure to identify a similarly situated individual in dismissing his claim. The Court disagreed. The nature of the alleged harm itself demonstrates the discriminatory intent. There is simply no need for Geinosky to identify specific individuals who did not receive 24 illegitimate parking tickets over the course of 14 months. The Court also reversed the dismissal of the conspiracy claim since it was based on the dismissal of the Equal Protection Claim. It also rejected defendants' argument that the conspiracy claim was inadequately pleaded. In fact, the Court noted that it could hardly imagine that the alleged harassment was not the product of a conspiracy. Finally, the Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim. Such a claim requires behavior that "shocks the conscience." That bar is very high and is not met here.