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Miller vs City of Monona

The Facts

In 2004 Miller sought to build a 4-unit condominium project on her lot in Monona, Wisconsin. The process stalled while Miller bought another lot, amended the plan, and abated an unexpected asbestos problem. Then her real problems began.

Miller negotiated unsuccessfully with her neighbor, a former mayor, who trespassed onto her property at the direction of city officials and took photographs for use at a planning commission meeting to oppose her project. Citations were issued for creating a public nuisance and working without the proper permit; the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a “Stop Work” Order due to the asbestos. Miller was also required to erect a fence, was told that weeds were too high, and was ordered to remove various structures.

State Courts

A Wisconsin State Court rejected 3 of the citations issued against her, stating that while “some of the efforts to enforce compliance were unreasonable” Miller had not pointed to any similarly situated person who had been treated differently. With the Court on its side, Monona refused to adjust taxes on the property to reflect the demolition of existing structures, and Officials continued to trespass by parking cars on her property.

District Court and 7th Circuit

In 2010, Miller filed suit again asserting equal protection violations. The District Court dismissed, finding that Miller had not identified a suitable comparator and that there was no evidence she had been treated unfairly because of her sex. In its opinion, the 7th Circuit affirmed the ruling of the District Court, noting that there could have been rational reasons for the City’s various actions and requirements.

The Upshot

It’s tempting to be snarky here and observe that the point of this case is that you literally can’t fight City Hall. But that would be too simplistic. No, the real lesson is that a little discretion can be a dangerous thing – whether it is being exercised by your Condo Board, the DMV, your City Zoning Board, or certain Courts. So really the upshot is that you can fight City Hall under the right circumstances.

Call us at 630-378-2200 or reach us in confidence at mhedayat[at]mha-law.com for a consultation.

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