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Sprincin King Street Partners v. Sound Conditioning Club Inc.

October 28, 1996


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-2-17817-1. Date filed: 08/21/95. Judge signing: Hon. Nancy A. Holman.

Webster, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. -- In this unlawful detainer action, Sprincin, the landlord, appeals the trial court's refusal to award double damages. The tenant, Sound Conditioning Club, relies on an unlawful detainer statute that requires the summons to state "the relief sought." It argues that Sprincin cannot recover double damages because the summons only requested the following: "to terminate your tenancy, direct the sheriff to remove you and your belongings from the property, enter a money judgment against you for fair market value of unpaid rent and/or damages for your use of the property, and for court costs and attorneys' fees." Despite omitting a request for double damages, Sprincin's summons substantially complied with the statute, thereby invoking the court's unlawful detainer jurisdiction.

To the extent authorized by statute, the trial court should have awarded double damages.

We find, however, that awarding double damages for rent accrued while the tenant lawfully possessed the property is unjust and also in conflict with the purpose of our unlawful detainer statute. Consequently, we restrict the double damages penalty for its intended purpose -- to penalize the tenant for refusing to surrender the property when the tenancy terminates. We remand to the trial court to re-compute the judgment amount.


Sound Conditioning Club, Inc. operates fitness clubs. Since 1984, it leased space in 83 King Street, Seattle. In 1988, Sound and Sprincin executed a five-year lease for that space. By an amendment signed in 1991, they extended the term to December 1997. In the amendment, Sprincin promised to replace an entry way carpet and repaint the entry door and a hallway leading in from the parking garage. It did the work, although allegedly later than promised.

Two years and a month after signing the lease amendment/extension, Sound wrote Sprincin the first in a series of letters alleging that the "deplorable condition" of the common areas was impacting business. In four letters during 1994, Sound alleged that Sprincin made and broke several promises to redecorate and recarpet. It emphasized that it could not compete against fitness clubs who made a better "first impression." And it offered to do the work itself, and deduct the expense over time from its rent obligation. Evidently, Sound did not pay rent for August or September 1994.

Again, Sound refused to pay rent for May or June 1995. Sprincin then served it with a three day notice on June 28th, and subsequently initiated an unlawful detainer action. Sound's answer asserted an affirmative defense/counterclaim essentially arguing that Sprincin's failure to maintain the premises breached the lease and caused it substantial damage.

The presiding Judge shortened time for Sprincin's summary judgment motion seeking possession, rent, and damages. At that hearing, the trial court authorized a writ of restitution and awarded Sprincin a $43,844 judgment, but refused to double it. *fn1 The court also refused to consider Sound's counterclaim, but stated that Sound reserved "the right to seek to convert this case to an ordinary civil action and to bring its claims in this action after it is converted, . . ." According to its counsel, Sound vacated the premises and the writ of restitution was recalled before the return date. Sprincin appeals, seeking double rent and double damages.

Sound cross-appeals the trial court's refusal to consider its counterclaim.



Sufficiency of the Summons to Confer Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Sprincin appeals the trial court's denial of double damages. Sound argues that Sprincin's failure to demand double damages in the summons precludes a double damages recovery.

The purpose of a summons is to give certain notice of the time prescribed by law to answer and to advise the defendant of the consequences of failing to do so. *fn2 An unlawful detainer summons implicates both personal and subject matter jurisdiction: an ineffective summons deprives the court of personal jurisdiction because the defendant was not properly hailed into court; it also deprives the court of jurisdiction over the unlawful detainer proceeding, which is a special summary procedure. *fn3 When contending that the trial court correctly denied double damages, Sound's arguments implicate subject matter jurisdiction. *fn4 They implicate jurisdiction because Sound alleges that the summons does not comply with the statutory requirements for an unlawful detainer, depriving the court of the power to ...

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