Equal protection charge filed against City of Philadelphia over trash collection fee dismissed

By Nicholas Malfitano | Mar 16, 2016

City of Philadelphia  

PHILADELPHIA – A multi-unit property owner who filed a federal complaint alleging the City of Philadelphia violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has had that charge dismissed.

Plaintiff Frank Allen asserted he is both the owner and occupant of a three family building located on the 700 block of North 25th Street in Philadelphia. Allen argued the multi-unit property is subject to a yearly $300.00 trash fee, which single-family, condominium and co-op owners are allegedly not subject to, and that the $300.00 fee is discounted by half for owner-occupied residences.

Allen asserted this ordinance violated his constitutional rights to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment, and summarily brought the instant action under 42 U.S.C., Section 1983.

Judge Thomas N. O’Neill Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said this is not Allen’s first attempt at litigating the constitutionality of the trash collection fee ordinance, having previously brought similar action before the City of Philadelphia’s Tax Review Board, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

In his amended complaint brought in the federal court, Allen stated he “feels he did not get a fair and unbiased review from those courts, because they were obviously protecting the interests of the city while neglecting the petitioner’s rights which are protected by the Constitution under the Fourteenth amendment.”

Due to Allen’s prior litigations on the same issue in state court, O’Neill said the doctrine of res judicata would bar his claims.

“The doctrine of res judicata is intended to insure the finality of judgments and prevent repetitive litigation. Claim preclusion acts to prevent a party from litigating issues that could have been brought in the original suit regardless of whether those claims were actually raised in the original suit,” O’Neill said.

“Additionally, a federal court must give to a state court judgment the same preclusive effect as would be given that judgment under the law of the state in which the judgment was rendered,” O’Neill added.

Further, though the following secondary point was not raised by defense counsel for the City in its dismissal motion, O’Neill stated the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would also apply in barring Allen’s claims.

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents lower federal courts from having jurisdiction to review state court decisions, and that the only federal court capable of doing so is the U.S. Supreme Court.

O’Neill said a later amending of the trash ordinance allowing for owner-occupied exemptions did not permit Allen to bring action as to the ordinance’s legality.

“The subsequent amendment of the ordinance to add an additional partial exemption from the municipal trash collection fee for owner occupied duplexes does not enable plaintiff to re-litigate the constitutionality of the ordinance,” O’Neill said. “Any further amendment of the complaint would be futile and amendment will not be allowed.”

The defendant is represented by Kristin K. Bray of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-05187

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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