Seventh Circuit Holds that Municipality Did Not Violate Business’s Constitutional Rights
In Black Earth Meat Market, LLC v. Village of Black Earth, No. 15-3818 (7th Cir. Aug. 24, 2016), the Seventh Circuit held that the Village of Black Earth’s efforts to close a slaughterhouse, which included threatened litigation to abate an alleged nuisance, did not violate due process or equal protection.
In 2001, Black Earth Meat Market bought a small building in the Village to operate a slaughterhouse. Over time, the Meat Market had increased the volume and frequency of its slaughter operations. By 2011, neighbors were complaining to the Village about increased traffic, delivery trucks blocking the road, livestock noise, foul odors, improper storage of animal parts, the presence of blood and animal waste in the streets, and escaped animals wandering the streets. Meanwhile, the Meat Market sought further expansion of its operations. In August 2013, the Meat Market finalized a loan agreement with the Bank of New Glarus. In order to obtain the loan, the Meat Market had to be able to certify that no suits, pending or threated, would adversely affect the Meat Market’s value as collateral.
In 2013, the Village increased enforcement of violations of its regulations at the Meat Market, issuing 9 citations. The Village held several public meetings to discuss the Meat Market. And it ordered the Meat Market to propose an acceptable plan for relocating its slaughter activities. Finally, in July 2014, the Village directed the Village Attorney to take legal action to eliminate any public nuisance and complaints. The Village’s action led the Bank to back out of its loan agreement with the Meat Market. Shortly after losing its expected financing, the Meat Market closed. The Meat Market then sued the Village in federal court. The district court granted summary judgment in the Village’s favor, and the Meat Market appealed to the Seventh Circuit.
The Seventh Circuit first addressed the procedural due process claim, finding that a mere threat to sue cannot qualify as a deprivation of procedural due process. Further, procedural due process requires notice and opportunity to be heard. The court emphasized that the Meat Market had received notice of all Village proceedings and had every opportunity to be heard at every relevant meeting of the Village board.
Next, the court rejected the Meat Market’s claim that the Village’s actions violated the equal protection clause. The Meat Market argued that the Village treated it differently from other businesses in the Village, solely as a result of sheer malice, vindictiveness, or malignant animosity. The court said there was no evidence to support this claim, and upheld the judgment in the Village’s favor.
The Village took steps to enforce its ordinances, and threatened legal action to abate a nuisance. The Village gave the Meat Market notice and opportunities to be heard throughout the process. This case serves as a reminder that elected officials should not be afraid to take appropriate legal action to enforce lawful ordinances and protect their community.