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Hager v. Hunters Water District District

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 9, 2014



THOMAS O. RICE, District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12). This matter was submitted for consideration without oral argument.[1] The Court has reviewed the briefing and the record and files herein, and is fully informed.


Plaintiffs seek damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments arising from Defendants' termination of water service to their residence in Hunters, Washington. In the instant motion, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim as precluded under the doctrine of res judicata by the dismissal of an earlier state court action in which Plaintiffs sought an injunction requiring Defendants to restore their water service. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motion.


Plaintiffs Alvah and Kathryn Hager live on a 28-acre parcel of land in Hunters, Washington. Water service to the property is provided by Defendant Hunters Water District ("HWD"). In August 2012, the Hagers became embroiled in a property line dispute with HWD and its Commissioners, Defendants Michael Schwartz, Robert Budweg and Ronald Bircher (the "Commissioners"). The crux of this dispute was whether the Plaintiffs and other third-party landowners had encroached on land and easements owned by HWD.

Shortly after the dispute came to a head, Plaintiffs received a letter from HWD advising them of a "backflow/cross connection problem"[3] with the water service on their property. The letter directed Plaintiffs to "work with [Defendant] Ron Bircher" to install a backflow prevention device within 30 days. The letter further stated that Defendant Bircher would be responsible for selecting the type of device and installation location, as well as for approving the temporary operation of the device once it had been installed. Finally, the letter informed Plaintiffs that their water service would be terminated if a backflow prevention device had not been installed and temporarily approved by Defendant Bircher within 30 days. ECF No. 16-1, Exhibit D.

Upon contacting the HWD, Plaintiffs were directed to install a particular type of backflow prevention device known as a double check valve assembly ("DCVA"), which is designed for low to moderate backflow risk applications. Plaintiffs moved forward with plans to install a DCVA. Before long, however, Plaintiffs came to believe that HWD's selection of a DCVA did not comport with Washington Department of Health regulations in that HWD had not involved a cross-connection control specialist ("CSS") in the decision-making process.[4]

At their own expense, Plaintiffs hired a CSS to determine whether a DCVA was appropriate for their application. The CSS concluded that a DCVA would not adequately protect the public water system due the fact that Plaintiffs maintained livestock on their property. The CSS advised Plaintiffs to install a different device known as a reduced pressure backflow assembly ("RPBA"), which is designed for higher backflow risk applications. The CSS also advised that, for logistical reasons, the device would need to be installed in a location different from the location previously selected by the HWD. Plaintiffs notified HWD of the CSS's findings and moved forward with the installation of a RPBA in the location selected by the CSS. The RPBA was installed on October 13, 2012, and passed an inspection by a certified inspector.

Four days later, Plaintiffs received a letter from the HWD stating that the device did not provide sufficient backflow protection because it had been installed too far away from the location previously chosen by HWD. The HWD terminated Plaintiffs' water service the next day. Without a source of water, Plaintiffs were forced to vacate the property and move their livestock to an alternate location.

On November 20, 2012, Plaintiffs sued HWD and its Commissioners in Stevens County Superior Court. Their complaint alleged that they had suffered substantial and irreparable harm as a result of "HWD's malicious, arbitrary and capricious actions." ECF No. 12-1 at ¶ 73. Plaintiffs prayed for the following relief:

Entry of a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction that:

(i) Enjoins the Defendants from engaging in arbitrary, capricious and malicious actions that violate the Plaintiffs [sic] constitutional rights to due process;
(ii) Requires the Defendants to immediately restore water service to the Plaintiffs pending a determination from a CSS regarding the Plaintiffs [sic] compliance with state crossconnection regulations;
(iii) Enjoins the Defendants from turning off the Plaintiffs [sic] water without a determination from a CSS that the location and type of the Plaintiffs [sic] Backflow Preventer device is not in ...

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