Barletta v. Rilling
Convicted Felon Proved Equal-Protection Violation
- U.S. District Court
- Sep 26 2013 (Date Decided)
- Underhill, J.
A broad prohibition on permitting convicted felons from obtaining a license to practice a particular trade can violate felons' equal-protection rights, unless the ban is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Michael Barletta was convicted of narcotics distribution and sentenced to three years. After he was released, he applied for a license to trade in precious metals. The defendant chief of police denied Barletta's application, because he was a convicted felon. Connecticut General Statutes §21-100 provides, "The licensing authority shall refuse to issue a license under this subsection to a person who has been convicted of a felony." Barletta sued the chief and the municipality and alleged that his rights to equal protection were denied. Felons are not members of a protected class, for 14th Amendment purposes. The court applied the rational basis test. Under the rational basis test, legislation is presumed valid, if the statutory classification is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. The State of Connecticut identified a reasonable goal of decreasing crime and fraud in the trade of precious metals. The current statute does not require consideration of business experience, education, training, past experience or the likelihood of illegal activity. It does not bar citizens who have defrauded customers, provided that they have not been convicted of felony. It does bar citizens convicted of felonies unrelated to fraud. C.G.S. §21-100 is both over- and under-inclusive. Conviction of certain felonies, such as mishandling environmental pollutants, may not predict whether an individual is suitable for a license to trade in precious metals. The statute failed to pass rational basis review. "Without a meaningful relationship between the absolute bar on felons from holding a precious metals license and the legitimate state interest of protecting the public from unscrupulous precious metals dealers," wrote the court, "the ban violates the Equal Protection Clause." Barletta is not entitled to compensatory damages, because the defendants enforced the law. He is not entitled to punitive damages, because municipalities are immune from punitives in a §1983 suit. If he applies again, the chief of police may consider the circumstances of his felony.