State and Local Legal Center Files Amicus Brief in Case Involving Debt Relief

The International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors signed onto an amicus curiae brief filed by the State and Local Legal Center in a U.S. Supreme Court case affecting the ability of state and local government to forgive debt—but not issue refunds—related to a discontinued program.

The issue in Armour v. Indianapolis is whether the City of Indianapolis violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution when it forgave the assessments of homeowners who paid for sewer improvements in multi-year installments, but issued no refunds to homeowners who paid for the same improvements in a lump sum.

When the city moved from one method of financing sewer improvements to another,  it forgave the debt of homeowners who chose to pay for their sewer improvements in installments but gave no refund to lump sum payers. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled the city did not violate the Equal Protection Clause because it had three rational reasons for only forgiving debt: providing relief to less prosperous residents who could not afford to pay upfront, preserving limited government resources by not issuing refunds, and maintaining administrative efficiency of not having to collect debt for up to 30 years related to a discontinued program.

The center’s brief argues that the city’s decision to only forgive debt in this case passes Equal Protection’s rational basis test. If the city’s three reasons fail rational basis review, numerous economic policy decisions of state and local government may be challenged as unconstitutional.  The center’s brief points out that infrastructure financing is complex and often needs modification.  The Supreme Court may discourage state and local government from making much needed changes to infrastructure financing if it invalidates the city’s decision in this case.

Jon Laramore and Scott Chinn of Faegre Baker Daniels in Indianapolis wrote the center’s brief. 

Visit the State and Local Legal Center’s website to download a copy of the brief.

Lisa Soronen is the executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, which files amicus briefs in support of states and local governments in the U.S. Supreme Court, conducts moot courts for attorneys arguing in the Supreme Court, and provides other assistance to states and local governments in connection with Supreme Court litigation. Members are The Council of State Governments, International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association, National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.


Also in this issue of Capitol Hill Ideas: