Siena Corporation v. Mayor and City Council of Rockville, Maryland
Siena Corporation bought the property at the heart of this lawsuit to open a self-storage facility. The City Council supported Siena’s plans and made various changes to its laws to facilitate the process. Siena obtained site-plan approval based on the Planning Commission’s finding that the project posed no health or safety concerns, and the city manager later wrote that there were no traffic concerns whatsoever. After the purchase, some neighbors complained to the Council that they perceived that the development would impact their property values. Based on these complaints, the Council amended its zoning regulations to prohibit self-storage facilities within 250 feet of a school zone. Siena’s proposed facility was the only one affected by the rule. If Siena can prove that the city acted at the behest of neighbors, rather than to protect public health and safety, the Council’s actions would unconstitutionally violate Siena’s right to earn a living because the zoning amendment would not be rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.
The district court accepted the government’s bare assertion that the law was rational and refused to inquire whether the law actually furthered any valid public health or safety purpose. The court even refused Siena the opportunity to conduct discovery to obtain information essential to proving its claim. Siena appealed and PLF filed an amicus brief supporting the company’s rights. PLF argues that although the “rational basis” test is deferential, courts must not ignore a plaintiff’s evidence that may overcome the presumption of a law’s constitutionality. Instead, courts must give meaning to the right to earn a living by giving teeth to rational basis scrutiny.