Sadly, in Philadelphia, the City that gave birth to the United States Constitution, respect for the Constitution by government officials is woefully lacking. Luckily, the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which sits in Philadelphia, has served as a bulwark to Philadelphia bureaucrats who ignore the individual freedoms the Constitution guarantees. Last week, Judge Michael Baylson handed economic liberty advocates a huge win in Checker Cab Philadelphia v. The Philadelphia Parking Authority. The importance of the decision has national implications.
The case involves the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s alleged decision to enforce taxi cab regulations against traditional taxis but not against ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber. The plaintiffs in the case are a group of taxi cab medallion holders. Plaintiffs claim disparity in treatment between taxis and ride sharing services. Specifically, the taxi cab owners claim that the Parking Authority’s strict enforcement of regulations against taxis while failing to enforce them against ride sharing services, violated their Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.
The Parking Authority moved to dismiss the complaint, which the Court denied. In denying the Motion to Dismiss, the Court that the taxi cab owners alleged disparate treatment and provided detailed allegations that taxis and ride sharing services are similarly situated. More importantly, the Court denied the motion to dismiss filed by the Parking Authorities executive director based on qualified immunity. The Court held that “the right to equal protection of the laws is clearly established.”
Clearly, Judge Baylson’s decision has implications beyond the taxi versus ride sharing context. For example, based on his decision, a property owner, developer, or business owner sufficiently states an equal protection claim against a government authority that enforces land use regulations or local codes stringently against him but gives breaks to a similar property owner, developer, or business owner.
While Judge Baylson rightly notes that his decision to allow the case to proceed is not a decision on the merits and the defendants can revisit issues at summary judgment, the decision is a nonetheless a victory for individuals against a regulatory state that is all too often abused.