Sunday, February 19, 2012

2011-2012 Supreme Court Term: Armour v. Indianapolis, No. 11-161 (Equal Protection)

One of the constitutional cases that the Supreme Court is currently reviewing is Armour v. Indianapolis, a tax case brought under the Equal Protection Clause.

In 2001 the City of Indianapolis assessed Christine Armour and a group of 180 other homeowners a fee of $9,278 to pay for connection to city sewers.  Of this group, 142 homeowners elected to pay in installments; Armour and the others decided to pay the entire amount in a lump sum.  In 2002, the City-County Council abandoned this method of assessment because it imposed too great a burden on homeowners, and it adopted a program of connecting property to city sewers at a cost of $2,500 apiece.  In 2005 the Council adopted Resolution 101 forgiving all outstanding balances due on the original assessments; however, the Council decided not to refund any payments that had already been made. 

Armour and the other homeowners who had paid their fee in full sued the city for a refund on the theory that Resolution 101 violates the Equal Protection Clause.  The principal case that they base their claim on is Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. v. County Commission, 488 U.S. 336 (1989), in which the Court ruled that there must be “rough equality in tax treatment of similarly situated taxpayers.” 

In City of Indianapolis v. Armour, 946 N.E.2d 553 (Ind. 2011), the Indiana Supreme Court rejected the homeowners’ claim and upheld Resolution 101.   The state court held that the city was trying to prevent hardship on homeowners who could not afford the assessment, and that homeowners who had paid the fee in full were more likely to be able to afford it.  The state court also found that the city had not intentionally singled out an “identifiable group” for disparate treatment.  In November of last year the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Armour's appeal from the ruling of the state court.

ABA Preview provides links to the briefs that were filed in this case here.  The Supreme Court Docket sheet for Armour is here.  The case is scheduled for oral argument on Wednesday, February 29.

In my opinion the United States Supreme Court will reverse the decision of the Indiana Supreme Court.  Although normally the courts are extremely deferential in evaluating the constitutionality of tax legislation, Resolution 101 intentionally treats some taxpayers differently than others and there is no rational basis for doing so.

Professor Huhn has taught Constitutional Law at the University of Akron for 28 years.  He is the author of "ObamaCare: Is It Necessary, What Will It Accomplish, Is It Constitutional" available from Amazon.  Earlier this year on behalf of a committee of professors he submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in U.S. Department of Health & Human Services v. Florida, the case involving the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  

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