A dispute dating back to 2007 was decided today by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the city of Little Rock, which had been sued for alleged racial discrimination for denying a rezoning for a nail salon* in Hillcrest

Kimberly Mensie purchased a house at 310 N. Van Buren in 2007 in which to live and operate a nail spa. Her request for rezoning of the property was denied by the Planning Commission and the City Board.


Mensie, who is black, sued. She said she’d been treated less favorably than others because of her race. She had filed but failed to pursue one state court case. Her subsequent federal case was dismissed on summary judgment at the district court level.

In its review, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court today upheld the lower court.


Mensie argues the historical background and relevant sequence of events give rise to an inference of racial discrimination here. She notes the City’s Director of Planning and Development opposed the idea “before the process had even begun.”

She also observes that the Commission rejected her applications even after she incorporated changes recommended by Commission staff in a preliminary meeting. Specifically, Mensie submitted a revised plan clarifying that her property would not
contain a dumpster and would comply with the overlay standards of the surrounding Hillcrest neighborhood. At a hearing before the Commission, Mensie proposed several more changes on her own initiative, including reducing the number of employees, operating on an appointment-only schedule, and cutting the number of
parking spacesin a parking lot she planned to pave in her backyard. The Commission still did not approve.

The court found no evidence of racial discrimination. It noted her property was zoned single-family in a predominantly single-family neighborhood and that the application process had progressed “according to usual procedures.”

Mensie alleged a code for racism in neighbors’ objection about a decline in property value and crime, but the court credited the opposition to fear of a commercial operation. Her rezoning appeal to the City Board failed on a 4-4 tie. The court also commented:


We also reject any argument that we should infer racial opposition in the overall comments of Mensie’s neighbors to the City in light of their allegedly hostile treatment toward her when she moved into the neighborhood and from the fact City officials allegedly voted against her applications mostly along racial lines. Unlike
these allegations, the City’s interest in preserving the neighborhood’s residential character from increased commercialization is supported by the record, and this precludes any inference that the City’s decision was racially motivated. 

Mensie also argued she was a “class of one,” a person treated differently than others. Such complaints must be supported by “specific and detailed” proof, the court said.

Mensie fails to meet this standard. She merely asserts on appeal that a number of manicurists and beauty salons operated from their homes across the City. Although Mensie underlined dozens of purported comparators in a roster of local salons that she placed in the record, we agree with the district court that she failed to
identify how any were similarly situated in all material respects, including in time, location, the zoning amendment process, and the City’s Land Use Plan. 

Mensie’s vigorous pursuit of her case caught my attention years ago. It seems to have reached its conclusion today. She could still ask for a U.S. Supreme Court review, but they are rarely granted.

Here’s the decision.

CORRECTION: A reader says a photo I took from web was the wrong house on that block. I’ve taken it down, seeking correct image.


UPDATE: Mensie called to say she was actually a nail spa, not a hair salon.