Village of Willowbrook v. Olech
528 U.S. 562 (2000)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1999

Syllabus

VILLAGE OF WILLOWBROOK ET AL. v. OLECH

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

No. 98-1288. Argued January 10, 2000-Decided February 23, 2000

When respondent Olech and her late husband first asked petitioner Village of Willowbrook (Village) to connect their property to the municipal water supply, the Village conditioned the connection on the Olechs granting it a 33-foot easement. Although it subsequently reduced the easement to the 15 feet required of other property owners, Olech sued, claiming that the Village's demand for an additional 18-foot easement violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and asserting that the easement was irrational and arbitrary, that the Village was motivated by ill will resulting from the Olechs' success in an unrelated lawsuit against the Village, and that the Village acted either with the intent to deprive Olech of her rights or in reckless disregard of her rights. The District Court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Olech's spiteful ill will allegation stated a claim.

Held: The Equal Protection Clause gives rise to a cause of action on behalf of a "class of one" where the plaintiff does not allege membership in a class or group, but alleges that she has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for such treatment. See, e. g., Sioux City Bridge Co. v. Dakota County, 260 U. S. 441. The Clause secures every person within a State's jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether occasioned by a statute's express terms or by its improper execution. Id., at 445. Here, Olech's allegations that the Village intentionally demanded a 33-foot easement from her when it required only 15 feet from similarly situated property owners, that the demand was irrational and arbitrary, and that the Village ultimately connected her property in return for a 15-foot easement-quite apart from the Village's subjective motive-state a claim for relief under traditional equal protection analysis. Thus, the Court does not reach the alternative "subjective ill will" theory on which the Seventh Circuit relied.

160 F.3d 386, affirmed.

James L. DeAno argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioners.


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Irving L. Gornstein argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Acting Assistant Attorney General Ogden, Deputy Solicitor General Underwood, and Mark B. Stern.

John R. Wimmer argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent. *

PER CURIAM.

Respondent Grace Olech and her late husband Thaddeus asked petitioner Village of Willowbrook (Village) to connect their property to the municipal water supply. The Village at first conditioned the connection on the Olechs granting the Village a 33-foot easement. The Olechs objected, claiming that the Village only required a 15-foot easement from other property owners seeking access to the water supply. After a 3-month delay, the Village relented and agreed to provide water service with only a 15-foot easement.

Olech sued the Village, claiming that the Village's demand of an additional 18-foot easement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Olech asserted that the 33-foot easement demand was "irrational and wholly arbitrary"; that the Village's demand was actually motivated by ill will resulting from the Olechs' previous filing of an unrelated, successful lawsuit against the Village; and that the Village acted either with the intent to deprive Olech of her rights or in reckless disregard of her rights. App. 10, 12.

The District Court dismissed the lawsuit pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a cognizable claim under the Equal Protection Clause. Relying on Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals for the Sev-

* Richard Ruda, James I. Crowley, and Donald B. Ayer filed a brief for the International City/County Management Association et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

Harvey Grossman, Steven R. Shapiro, and Richard J. O'Brien filed a brief for the ACLU as amicus curiae urging affirmance.


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Full Text of Opinion

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