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SHOUSE v. PIERCE CTY.

November 6, 1975

Jack SHOUSE et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PIERCE COUNTY et al., Defendants



Per Curiam

Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Sections 36.94.230 *fn1" and.240 *fn2" of the Revised Code of Washington are unconstitutional insofar as they permit only owners of real property to divest the action of county commissioners in the formation of the Utility Local Improvement District (ULID). As non-land owning residents within the ULID created by defendants, *fn3" plaintiffs contend that their inability to vitiate the creation by protest, as could landowners, amounts to a denial of equal protection of laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs also seek to enjoin defendants from proceeding with construction of the sewer system authorized for the ULID. As a second cause of action, plaintiff Jack Shouse, both a landowner and resident tenant within the ULID, contends that the statute's provision for weighting a landowner's vote in proportion to the area of land owned works a denial of equal protection by diluting the franchise of those who own small parcels.

Five issues are presented: first, whether this court has jurisdiction over the dispute; second, whether the action is barred by the thirty-day limitation period established in Section 36.94.240; third, whether the action is barred under the principle of laches; fourth, whether the challenged statute denies non-landowners the equal protection of laws by limiting the right of divestment to property owners; and fifth, whether the weighting of votes according to land area represented denies the equal protection of laws to owners of small parcels. Our resolution of the first three issues makes unnecessary an examination of the last two.

 I. JURISDICTION

 Plaintiffs plead 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in support of this court's jurisdiction. No individual plaintiff has shown that he has a claim in excess of $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and claims of this type may not be aggregated to reach the jurisdictional amount. *fn4" Accordingly, Section 1331 does not confer jurisdiction as to any defendant. Section 1983 is not a jurisdictional statute. Where, however, the cause of action is predicated on Section 1983, as here, jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) as to all defendants except Pierce County. Pierce County is not a person subject to suit under Section 1983, *fn5" and the action against it is dismissed with costs.

 II. STATUTORY LIMITATION PERIOD

 The resolution forming the ULID was adopted on June 18, 1973, and this action was filed on September 5, 1973. Defendants contend that the suit is thus barred by the thirty-day limitation period of R.C.W. 36.94.240. *fn6"

 Plaintiffs vigorously contend that because this is a case involving equitable relief the statutory period is inapplicable. We disagree.

 The statute involved is health and welfare legislation. Substantial delays in implementing the resolution adopted by the commissioners pursuant to it could seriously jeopardize the well-being of all of the residents within the ULID. Where a statute creates substantive rights affecting the health and well-being of a community and the legislature chooses to define the procedures for exercising those rights, the legislative scheme should not be disrupted. It is a long-established principle that such statutes be given a liberal construction for the accomplishment of their objectives. *fn7" The Washington legislature, in its wisdom, has determined that "no action whatsoever" challenging any proceedings under R.C.W. 36.94.240 should be maintained after thirty days following adoption of a ULID resolution. A strict application of this limitation period maximizes the public welfare purposes of the statute.

 Additionally, in this era of double digit inflation, an extended delay in constructing the approved utility could significantly increase its cost, possibly to the extent of making it prohibitive.

 None of the cases cited by plaintiffs in support of their contention that the statutory limitation period is inapplicable involved limitation periods specifically incorporated into the statute at issue so as to become an integral part thereof, as is the situation here. *fn8" Where a period of limitation is part of the statute under constitutional attack, the Supreme Court has given effect thereto. In Cipriano v. Houma,9 the Court found unconstitutional a statute limiting the right to vote in revenue bond elections, but it limited the effect of its decision to circumstances "where, under state law, the time for challenging the election result has not expired . . . ." A similar result on the merits was reached in Phoenix v. Kolodziejski,10 and once again the Court limited its holding to suits filed within the challenge period specified by the state election statute. Both of these cases were suits in equity, with the respective plaintiffs seeking only injunctive and declaratory relief. Thus, we hold that the thirty-day limitation period bars plaintiffs' claim.

 Furthermore, enforcing an integrated limitation obviates the necessity of attempting to apply by analogy state statutes of general limitation varying greatly in length. Plaintiffs cite one general statute of three years and one of six years as possibly applicable. By so doing they acknowledge that Washington has no general statutory provision which would clearly and unquestionably apply here. The integrated thirty-day limitation not only applies, it simplifies and resolves the problem.

 III. LACHES

 Assuming, arguendo, that this case should be governed by the doctrine of laches rather than by a statutory limitation period, the result must be the same. Because the action was filed after the analogous statutory period, plaintiffs not only have the burden of excusing their delay but of establishing that the delay has caused no prejudice to defendants. *fn11" ...


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