By Maria Saporta
The Eleventh Circuit U.S. District Court has upheld a lower court ruling giving the City of Atlanta a major victory in the federal case involving the Metropolitan Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.
The ruling was released today — Jan. 15 — nearly 16 months after U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash had ruled in favor of the city in every element of the lawsuit. Click here for earlier SaportaReport story on Judge Thrash’s ruling on Sept. 22, 2011.
It is yet one more legal decision that has been handed down against the Task Force, which continues to occupy the Peachtree-Pine building in downtown Atlanta.
In short, the Task Force’s failed in its appeal of Judge Thrash’s ruling, and it now has exhausted virtually all of its legal options at the federal level.
“We are very pleased with today’s ruling,” said City Attorney Cathy Hampton. “We believed that this lawsuit had no merit, and we are gratified that both Judge Thrash and the Eleventh Circuit agreed with us.”
The Task Force filed the original lawsuit in 2008 when the City sought to collect delinquent water and sewer charges from the Task Force. The Task Force later expanded its lawsuit, adding multiple state and federal claims against the City.
In a 3-page opinion, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with Judge Thrash that the Task Force did not properly plead a First Amendment claim, that the Task Force did not demonstrate an equal protection violation by the city, and that the city did not deprive the Task Force of due process.
Here is a copy of the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling on the case of the Task Force versus the City of Atlanta.
METROPOLITAN ATLANTA TASK FORCE FOR THE HOMELESS,
CITY OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA,
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Northern District of Georgia
(January 15, 2013)
Before BARKETT and JORDAN, Circuit Judges, and HODGES,* District Judge.
When the City of Atlanta terminated water service, the Metropolitan Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless sued the City, alleging breach of contract and violation of its constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on all of the Task Force’s claims and entered judgment in the amount of $147,288.73 on the City’s counterclaim for unpaid water and sewer services. The Task Force appealed. Following oral argument and review of the record, we affirm.
1. With respect to the Task Force’s First Amendment claim, we agree with the
district court that paragraph 78 of the Second Amended Complaint (which merely
alleged that the City’s actions deprived the Task Force of “its rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments”) did not properly plead a First Amendment claim. See generally Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).
2. As for the equal protection claim, the district court correctly found that the Task Force did not demonstrate an equal protection violation under a “class of one” theory because it failed to show it was treated differently from others who were similarly situated. See Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000) (per curiam); Griffin Indus., Inc. v. Irvin, 496 F.3d 1189, 1202, 1207-08 (11th Cir. 2007).
3. Turning to the due process claim, it fails because the Task Force failed to
show that there was a deprivation caused by the City and because the Task Force does not have a constitutionally protected property interest in the certificates or eligibility for grants. See Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972). As we and other circuits have explained, where the statutes or regulations for the issuance of permits, licenses, or grants are discretionary, an applicant has no protected property interest. See Spence v. Zimmerman, 873 F.2d 256, 258-59 (11th Cir. 1989). See also New York State Nat’l Org. For Women v. Pataki, 261 F.3d 156, 164 (2nd Cir. 2001); Baldwin v. Daniels, 250 F.3d 943, 946 (5th Cir. 2001); Shaner v. United States, 976 F.2d 990, 994-95 (6th Cir. 1992).
4. Finally, the district court properly granted summary judgment to the City on the breach of contract claim. The Task Force acknowledges that there are arrearages, and regardless of the City’s actions, the Task Force owed money for its use of water services. The Task Force’s assertion that the City did not read the water meters and “engaged in a general practice of ‘estimating,’” see Brief of Appellant at 39, is not supported by Mr. Hunter’s testimony. See Hunter Dep. 93-94 (Dec. 15, 2010) (“Q:
So then assuming that a meter can be read and is not broken, then the consistent policy has been, as you understand it, that any meter that can be read needs to be read before it’s billed? A: That was certainly the policy.”).
* The Honorable Wm. Terrell Hodges, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida, sitting by designation.