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Lawsuit over Capitol Hill protest zone can move forward: City of Seattle loses important first round in CHOP legal battle

A lawsuit brought by a collection of 12th Ave real estate developers, small businesses, and residents against the City of Seattle and Mayor Jenny Durkan over the handling of this summer’s CHOP Capitol Hill occupied protest zone can move forward, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Judge Thomas S. Zilly of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied the city’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling in favor of three of the four claims against City Hall alleging that city leaders violated property rights by allowing a dangerous protest and encampment to continue for weeks.

“Plaintiffs plausibly allege that the City’s actions — encouraging CHOP participants to wall off the area and agreeing to a ‘no response’ zone within and near CHOP’s borders — foreseeably placed Plaintiffs in a worse position,” the judge wrote in his decision. The full decision can be found at the end of this post.


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In their complaint, the plaintiffs claimed the city had violated property rights, violated due process rights by allowing a dangerous situation around the protest zone to fester, and failed to provide equal protection to the businesses and residents near the CHOP zone. The judge upheld each of the allegations but the last saying the plaintiffs could not establish that the city had favored the beliefs of the protesters over the viewpoints of the plaintiffs.

In denying the city’s effort to dismiss the case, Zilly’s decision kicks the legal process into a new gear in complicated proceedings that are expected to involve huge amounts of internal city documents and months of legal back and forth over evidence.

He also left open the possibility the case could become a class action lawsuit, opening the door to a much larger pool of plaintiffs against the city. CHS reported earlier this month on the legal process for people to join the lawsuit as the sides in the case agreed on a February deadline, setting up a possible trial date in 2022 — one year and seven months from the day Mayor Durkan  ordered the camp raided and swept.

From its formation in the temporary exit of police from the East Precinct building and the barriers at 12th and Pine on June 8th, the CHOP camp was celebrated as a center of protest and also for its art and community even as there were reports of open-carry enthusiasts joining the crowds and a regular presence of armed sentries posted around the area as part of camp security. The city worked out a new layout plan with protesters to better open the area to traffic and emergency vehicles. Meanwhile, there was growing unease about Seattle Police’s limited presence in the zone around 11th and Pine and Cal Anderson Park and growing criticism that the camp’s purpose of occupying the area and the “Seattle People’s Precinct” was overtaking greater Black Lives Matter goals. Gunfire and deadly shootings took a terrible toll. 19-year-old Renton High student Lorenzo Anderson was shot and killed. Just over a week later, 16-year-old Antonio Mays, Jr. was gunned down and another young teen was shot on the edges of the protest camp.

CHS first reported in late June while CHOP was still active on the lawsuit led by Capitol Hill-based developer Hunters Capital seeking to be determined financial damages for a group of businesses in the Pike/Pine and 12th Ave areas around CHOP. The list of plaintiffs has grown. It includes developers Hunters CapitalRedside Partners and Madrona Real Estate, businesses Cafe ArgentoNorthwest LiquorBergman’s Lock and Key, Car Tender, Tattoos and Fortune, Sage Physical Therapy, Richmark Label, and property owners including Onyx Homeowners Association as well as a handful of individual residents. After CHOP’s clearance, E Pine’s Rancho Bravo, 12th and Pike’s Sway and Cake boutique, and Nagle’s Cure cocktail bar joined the roster.

“This is not a step our clients have taken lightly,” lawyers at the firm Calfo Eakes told media at the time. “The rights of free speech and assembly are enshrined in our constitutional tradition, and our clients support protesters’ right to bring issues such as systemic racism and police brutality towards African Americans to the forefront of the national consciousness.”

Madrona’s Brad Augustine told CHS the point of the lawsuit is “the little guy.” “This is 100% about the little businesses on the Hill. We are seeing tenants not renew leases because they don’t want to be in Pike/Pine,” Augustine said in June.

“The City should not allow the right to peacefully protest and demand systemic change to manifest itself in acts of violence, harassment, excessive noise and property damage,” a statement from Hunters Capital read as the Capitol Hill-based firm also stated its support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

At its core, the case posits an important questions for modern cities in America. Can you sue City Hall over protest “inaction?” With the Seattle case moving forward, the legal repercussions of CHOP will continue with the city for months and possibly years. Other cities dealing with waves of protest will also be watching and weighing their own responses to free speech and demonstration.

Seattle also much measure how it continues to respond to ongoing protests and the presence of homelessness activists and new encampments around Cal Anderson Park.


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louise
louise
1 month ago

Good for the plaintiffs and all of us. Now it is time for the city to settle so they don’t squander millions in legal bills.

CapHillTom
CapHillTom
1 month ago

Hopefully this lawsuit discovery process answers some questions that still need answers:

1. Who ordered the precinct to be abandoned?
2. Who ordered multiple nights of neighborhood level tear gas deployments in late May/Early June?
3. Who ordered journalists to be threatened/arrested at 9:01am on July 1st, the minute all coroprate news media went off the air showing Jenny’s 5am morning wake up call for the entire neighborhood?
4. Why were all city departments EXCEPT SPD supporting the situation? At worst in a non pandemic year, this would have been the same time of year multiple Pride events and Block Party would have brought the same type of disruptions to the area. SPD enflamed what was a national protest and turned it into a local one, noone has been held accountable.

Community aid helped folks in need more then 5 declared years of a homeless emergency. Mutual aid showed up to feed and take care of people better then anyone out of Murray or Durkan’s administration. All while doing it during a pandemic and keeping infection rates down. The City of Seattle failed residents of Capitol Hill and Central District, again. All while the politically power hungry mayor hides in her mansion.

Moving On
Moving On
1 month ago

Good. “Weighing their own responses to free speech”. Come on.

You can say whatever you want and people said plenty. Establishing Hamsterdam in a city park in a residential area and walling it off it totally different. Kids died over this ludicrous ideological experiment.

I hope this does become a class action lawsuit, and I hope the continuing failure to police Cal Anderson and the efforts to hand it over to activists over neighborhood objections are folded in.

Mimi
Mimi
1 month ago

I hope this becomes a class action suit and that those of us that live in the formerly occupied territory can join it.

James in the CD
James in the CD
1 month ago
Reply to  Mimi

Why aren’t you out there defending it? Sorry but the park should be for the people who are out there. We outnumber the cops. And if you oppose, show it with your body instead of from your overpriced apartment. Respectfully.

Mimi
Mimi
1 month ago

You know nothing about me and my financial situation so please don’t make assumptions. I’m not a rich person or a tech worker etc. What I am is someone who has lived in this neighborhood for decades. I considered myself part of the Left until CHOP and everything I witnessed first-hand there including the murder of Antonio Mays Jr. I do not think any group (whatever their political affiliation or cause) should be permitted to occupy a section of a neighborhood and turn it into a lawless zone complete with self-appointed armed guards. I don’t think most rational people in this country want this or would tolerate it no matter the cause. The FACT (and yes facts do still matter) is that the city enabled this and they should be held accountable. I support the law suit 100 percent. Respectfully.

RWK
RWK
1 month ago

Thank you, Mimi, for your comment on what exactly happened. The City, and Mayor Durkan, must be held accountable for their enabling of the CHOP disaster (“summer of love”) and for their dithering in bringing it to a close.

It’s too bad this lawsuit can’t get at the members of the City Council, who directly encouraged CHOP by not speaking out. But we can “throw the bums out” at the next election!

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
1 month ago

I considered myself part of the Left until CHOP…

Your comments before the BLM protests were even a thing would claim otherwise.

The FACT (and yes facts do still matter) is that the city enabled this and they should be held accountable.

Feel free to post these “FACTS”.

The FACT is that you’ve never cared for Seattle and this CHOP lawsuit has made you exceptionally giddy.

James in the CD
James in the CD
1 month ago

I’m Pro CHOP. Screw you money grubbing business owners. I hope they don’t see a dime.

Mimi
Mimi
1 month ago

Many of the businesses in this neighborhood are independent shops owned by local people who employ other local people. Most of them are against systemic racism. They are not the enemy and they did not deserve to have their businesses attacked and hurt during the most difficult economic period this country has seen in decades. When you victimize the very people who support you, all you do is alienate yourself and create photo ops for the Right to help re-elect Trump.

HTS3
HTS3
1 month ago

Hey James, so do you live on Capitol Hill? Do you buy groceries, books, frame any pictures, go out for a meal, buy a present for your grandmother, try a new ice cream, listen to some live music, pick up a slice, get a drink with a friend, get your hair cut here on the Hill, or do you know someone who works in one of these stores because that’s how they live and eat? Oh, you don’t because of the “money grubbing” business owners. So, I guess you do all your shopping with Amazon. Right, nobody ever protests that.

Charlette LeFevre
Charlette LeFevre
1 month ago

I don’t think businesses are seeing the concrete barriers were initially placed for pedestrian safety after the June 7th shooting and a car plowing into a crowd. Capitol Hill Pride asked the Mayor, SDOT and the City Atty for concrete barriers on Sat. June 13th for safety reasons having seen there were no effective street barriers against future cars attacks. We asked that they be staggered to still allow access of safety vehicles. SDOT dropped off the barriers the following business day on Mon. June 15th. Service Request # 20-00105446.
We do not know if it was exclusively our request for the concrete barriers but having done 11 years of safety street closures for events we were shocked the protest area did not have adequate safety barriers a week later for pedestrians against another drive by attack. Seattle doesn’t need another Charlottesville car attack plowing into people. In fact it would have been highly negligent of the city not to provide concrete barriers for pedestrians in the area which was still a high concern up until protesters were removed.

Kurt G Plunkett
Kurt G Plunkett
1 month ago

Be gone CHOP, and NEVER come back!

Tom
Tom
1 month ago

Even if the plaintiffs win, where do you think the compensation will come from? As repugs love to whine every time they have to fund things they don’t like, it will be from the pockets of taxpayers, and that includes all the “moderates” here.

A lot fewer people are eating out or shopping for non-essential items in the area, CHOP or no CHOP. It’s a good thing the small businesses get a few extra bucks out of this somehow. Don’t know about the commerical landlords though.

RWK
RWK
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

It’s likely that the City has a substantial liability policy to cover the costs of a lawsuit like this, so it’s just not true that the taxpayers will be responsible.

caphiller
caphiller
1 month ago
Reply to  RWK

The taxpayers will pay. Even if a settlement gets paid by insurance, the city will pay in the future in the form of skyrocketing premiums.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  RWK

Where did the city get the money to pay for such policy? Is whoever the city got the policy from going to keep the current rate?

HTS3
HTS3
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

Hey Tom, just a comment about your “commercial landlords” line. It’s true that some commercial landlords are large companies, but many are small, family owned businesses. Their business just happens to be renting out a space or two or three to a retail business. Sometimes the image of a landlord is a little misleading in the “lording over the land” department. Just my two cents.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  HTS3

HTS3, they aren’t breaking a sweat in this real estate market. Republicans, capitalists, and the anti-homeless, anti-“thugs” bunch like to talk about accountability so who’s to blame if they didn’t save for rainy days?

S
S
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

The rest of the city SHOULD have to pay for abandoning our neighborhood. It’s the only consequence most people who enabled the murders will experience.

Randy from POWHat
Randy from POWHat
1 month ago

FYI the city does not have a liability policy, it is self-insured. Payouts for damages from lawsuits come out of the city’s general fund, which is made up of various types of tax dollars. What would be work thinking about is if citizens did a ballot referendum that specifies that damages from lawsuits the city loses must come out of the department budget that caused the problem the lawsuit named. That might get departments to think about their actions.

DazednConfused
DazednConfused
1 month ago

If the city can pay Sawant’s legal bills to defend herself against the recall, they can pay the damages suffered by the tax paying citizens and businesses from the city allowing the CHOP to take control of their lives and livelihoods. I am sure the city still expected to receive their taxes from the businesses and residents who were cut off from city services.

Mimi
Mimi
1 month ago
Reply to  DazednConfused

Excellent point about Sawant’s legal bills!

And yes the city expected us to pay our taxes while we were being terrorized by noise 24/7 vandalism, gunfire and murder all while denying us police services. And yes, they are still expecting us to pay our taxes while Cal Anderson is neglected and devolving into a dystopian nightmare. It’s almost 4 months after CHOP and we still don’t have our neighborhood restored.