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Case Name Hunters Capital v. Seattle PN-WA-0007
Docket / Court 2:20-cv-00983 ( W.D. Wash. )
State/Territory Washington
Case Type(s) Policing
Special Collection Police Violence Protests (Spring/Summer 2020)
Post-WalMart decisions on class certification
Case Summary
This putative class-action lawsuit was filed on June 24, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Represented by private counsel, plaintiffs were residents, tenants, property owners, and business owners in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, and they brought suit ... read more >
This putative class-action lawsuit was filed on June 24, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Represented by private counsel, plaintiffs were residents, tenants, property owners, and business owners in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, and they brought suit against the City of Seattle.

Background
This lawsuit was one of many that arose out of the widespread protests that swept the nation in the spring and summer of 2020. The protests were most directly traceable to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis late that May, calling for an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

Although protests spread throughout the country, they were especially forceful and durable in Seattle. After the Seattle Police Department left and boarded the East Precinct building on June 8, 2020, protesters declared Capitol Hill an autonomous area. The region quickly became known by different names, including Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) or Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). While some claimed that CHOP was an area dedicated to protest, arts, and providing for others, others said that there was rampant lawlessness, property destruction, and violence.

The Lawsuit
While claiming that they supported the underlying inspiration for CHOP and recognizing participants' First Amendment rights, the lawsuit accused the City of abandoning that area, leaving the plaintiffs susceptible to vandalism, violence, property destruction, and other criminal activity. The plaintiffs accused the City of supporting CHOP, even as they acknowledged dangerous conditions. Further, the plaintiffs argued that the City left CHOP blocked off from public access, damaging the plaintiffs' ability to operate their businesses. The plaintiffs charged the City with violating the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution, as well as Washington statutory law. First, the complaint argued that the plaintiff class's procedural due process rights were violated by the City helping CHOP participants occupy the area and limiting the plaintiff class's access to their property. Second, plaintiffs argued that the City created a nuisance by impeding traffic, thereby interfering with the plaintiff class's enjoyment of their property. Next, the plaintiffs argued that the City's assistance of CHOP represented a state-created danger, violating the putative class's substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Fourth, they argued that the City violated a clause of the Washington constitution which prohibited any municipality from giving property away unless for the needy. Finally, plaintiffs argued that the City's actions represented a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Takings Clause. The plaintiffs asked for monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief, as well as attorneys' fees and costs.

An End to CHOP
On July 1, 2020, after several publicized acts of violence, the Seattle Police Department dispersed the protests, bringing the existence of CHOP as an "autonomous zone" to an end. The Seattle Police Department were called in after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order labeling CHOP an unlawful protest.

The Lawsuit Continues: The City's Motion to Dismiss and Deny Class Certification
On July 10th, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. The new complaint was much the same as the original, but it took out the nuisance count and the Washington Constitution count, and added a count for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In response, the City filed a motion to dismiss and deny class certification on July 23. They argued that § 1983 claims must allege that a government institution caused harm directly. The City claimed that it did nothing to directly expose plaintiffs to harm. Further, the City argued that the Due Process Clause does not compel the government to protect the life, liberty, or property of citizens by private actors. The City also claimed that it did not directly place the plaintiffs in danger, and therefore did not breach the "state-created danger" exception. Seattle argued that its actions did not represent a "taking," as they were just a temporary loss of access to property. The motion argued that the City did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because the City did not discriminate against anyone. Finally, the City argued that class certification was improper, because the plaintiffs complained of distinct harms at different times with differing damages. On September 10, the City additionally filed a motion to stay discovery pending a decision on the motion to dismiss.

The Court granted the City's motion to dismiss the claim based on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but denied the City's motion to dismiss with respect to all the other claims on October 16, 2020. 2020 WL 6120008. Regarding the Equal Protection claim, the plaintiffs had proposed two groups allegedly treated differently by the City: (1) "areas occupied by CHOP versus other areas of the City" and (2) "[p]laintiffs versus CHOP participants." The Court found that the plaintiffs failed to show that individuals in the area occupied by CHOP were similarly situated to individuals in other areas of the City. In addition, the Court found that the City's alleged favoritism towards CHOP participants did not necessarily mean the City disfavored the plaintiffs. Furthermore, even if the proposed classes were similarly situated, the Court found that the plaintiffs failed to allege that the City acted without any rational basis for treating the plaintiffs differently. However, though the Court dismissed the Equal Protection claim, the Court permitted the plaintiffs' to file a second amended complaint within fourteen days and allowed the plaintiffs' procedural due process, substantive due process, and unlawful takings claims to proceed.

In the same opinion, the Court also denied the City's motions to deny class certification and stay discovery. The Court held that it would be improper to decide class certification on the pleadings in this case and that discovery should be permitted to allow the plaintiffs an opportunity to discover evidence to show if there were in fact common questions.

The plaintiffs proceeded to file a second amended complaint on October 30, 2020. Two businesses were removed as plaintiffs. In addition, the plaintiffs removed the Equal Protection claim and re-added claims for negligence and nuisance. The remainder of the complaint was largely the same as the original.

In mid-November, the National Police Association then sought leave from the Court to participate in the case as amicus curiae. The National Police Association expected to present positions in support of the plaintiffs and believed that its briefs would aid the Court by providing its perspective on a municipality's decision to supply or decline to supply police protection service. The Court denied the National Police Association's motion on December 7, 2020 without prejudice.

Throughout December, the parties proceeded with discovery. The case is ongoing as of January 2, 2021.

Jack Hibbard - 09/10/2020
Emily Kempa - 01/02/2021


compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Takings
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Disparate Treatment
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) City of Seattle
Plaintiff Description Several businesses and individuals in Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 06/24/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
W.D. Wash.
12/14/2020
2:20-cv-00983
PN-WA-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Wash.
06/24/2020
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
PN-WA-0007-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
07/10/2020
First Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 9]
PN-WA-0007-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
07/23/2020
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Deny Class Certification [ECF# 11]
PN-WA-0007-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
10/16/2020
Order [ECF# 23] (499 F.Supp.3d 888)
PN-WA-0007-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
10/30/2020
Second Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 28]
PN-WA-0007-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Zilly, Thomas Samuel (W.D. Wash.) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0005 | PN-WA-0007-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Calfo, Angelo J. (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0001 | PN-WA-0007-0002 | PN-WA-0007-0004 | PN-WA-0007-9000
DeCarlow, Andrew S (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0004 | PN-WA-0007-9000
Eakes, Patty A. (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0001 | PN-WA-0007-0002 | PN-WA-0007-0004 | PN-WA-0007-9000
Phillips, Henry (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-9000
Weaver, Tyler (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0004 | PN-WA-0007-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Ballinger, Kristin (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-9000
Farmer, Tyler L (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-9000
Groshong, Joseph (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0003 | PN-WA-0007-9000
Harrigan, Arthur (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-9000
Holmes, Peter S. (Washington) show/hide docs
PN-WA-0007-0003

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