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Coalition v. City of Seattle

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 20, 2014



JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.


Before the court is Defendant City of Seattle's ("the City") motion for summary judgment. (Mot. (Dkt. # 17).) This is a land use case. Plaintiff Koontz Coalition ("the Coalition") is a group of downtown Seattle property owners challenging a land use ordinance recently passed by the City. (2d Am. Compl. (Dkt. # 13) ¶ 1.1; Weber Decl. (Dkt. # 18-1) Ex. A at 5.) The Coalition claims that the ordinance-which sets "in-lieu" fees that developers can pay to develop more building area than would be allowed under otherwise-applicable zoning regulations-violates both state and federal law. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4.1-6.3.) The Coalition asks for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees. ( See id. ) The City argues that the Coalition's claims should be dismissed on summary judgment. ( See Mot.) For the reasons described below, the court GRANTS summary judgment in the City's favor with respect to the Coalition's federal claims and REMANDS the remaining state law claims to King County Superior Court.


This case involves the City's so-called "downtown bonus program." The downtown bonus program is a section of the City's land use code that allows developers to build more square footage on their property than otherwise permitted by extant zoning regulations. (Freeman Decl. (Dkt. # 19) ¶ 2.) If a developer wishes to construct a building that exceeds applicable square footage limitations, the developer can either provide a certain amount of affordable housing to the community or simply pay a fee- called a "fee in-lieu." ( Id. ) This additional square footage is called "bonus" development. ( Id. ) Developers are not required to participate in the bonus program; they always have the option of simply complying with existing zoning requirements, in which case they do not need to provide affordable housing or pay in-lieu fees. ( Id. )

The City recently raised its in-lieu fees in downtown Seattle. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) In May, 2013, the City rezoned the South Lake Union area of Seattle, instituting a bonus development program and setting in-lieu fees in South Lake Union that were higher than the then-existing in-lieu fees in the downtown core. ( Id. ¶ 7.) On December 16, 2013, the City passed an ordinance, CB 124388 ("the Ordinance"), raising in-lieu fees in the downtown core to be commensurate with the new rates established in South Lake Union. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10.)

The Coalition now challenges the Ordinance. The Coalition bases its challenge on a recent United States Supreme Court case from which the Coalition takes its name: Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District, 133 S.Ct. 2586 (2013). In Koontz, the Supreme Court expanded the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions in the context of land use. This doctrine was initially articulated in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987) and Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374 (1994). Nollan and Dolan established that when a city imposes on the discretionary grant of a land use permit a condition that would amount to a taking if done outright, two requirements must be satisfied. First, an essential nexus must exist between the condition imposed and the legitimate state interests served by the building restriction from which the landowner seeks a variance. See Nollan, 483 U.S. at 837. Second, the nature and extent of the condition must be roughly proportional to the proposed development's expected impact on those state interests. See Dolan, 512 U.S. at 391. In Koontz, the Supreme Court made clear that these requirements apply even when the condition is a payment of money, and even when the exaction never actually occurs because the landowner refuses to agree to the condition and the city therefore denies the permit. See Koontz, 133 S.Ct. at 2603.

The Coalition argues that the Ordinance fails the "nexus" and "rough proportionality" test established in Nollan and Dolan and expanded upon in Koontz. ( See generally 2d Am. Compl.) The Coalition also argues that the Ordinance violates the Washington State Constitution and RCW § 82.02.020, under which cities in Washington cannot require fees of this nature unless it is "reasonably necessary as a direct result of the proposed development...." RCW § 82.02.020; Wash. Const. art. I, §§ 3, 12, 16, art. XI, § 11; (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4.1-4.4). The Coalition requests injunctive relief, attorney's fees, and a declaratory judgment invalidating the Ordinance. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4.1-6.3.)

To date, none of the Coalition's members have been required to comply with the Ordinance. The Coalition consists of three downtown property owners: (1) Second & Pike, LLC; (2) D, LLC; and (3) Seventh & Battery, LLC. (Weber Decl. at 5.) Second & Pike, LLC has obtained a development permit but will not be subject to the Ordinance because it has vested rights in a pre-Ordinance permit application. (Putnam Decl. (Dkt. # 21) ¶¶ 3-4.) D, LLC has submitted initial information to the City regarding development of its property but has not yet submitted a permit application that would subject it to the Ordinance. ( Id. ¶ 5.) Seventh & Battery, LLC is merely "planning to develop" its property at some future date but also has not submitted a permit application and is therefore not yet subject to the ordinance. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 3.3; Putnam Decl. ¶ 7.) In addition, it is not entirely clear how long the Ordinance will remain in effect. The City submits evidence that it is conducting an extensive review of the downtown bonus program that may result in significant legislative amendments in the near future. ( See, e.g., Freeman Decl. ¶¶ 8, 11-19, Exs. E, I.)

The City moves for summary judgment on numerous grounds. The City argues that the Coalition lacks standing to challenge the Ordinance because none of its members have suffered any injury yet. (Mot. at 15-18.) For related reasons, the City argues that the court should dismiss the dispute under either the jurisdictional or prudential prong of the ripeness doctrine. ( Id. at 15-24.) The City also advances several merits-based arguments, including that the Coalition does not allege a valid unconstitutional conditions claim, that the Coalition is prohibited from bringing a facial challenge to the ordinance instead of an as-applied challenge, and that the Coalition does not have an unconstitutional conditions claim because the City has provided a viable alternative to the in-lieu fees. ( Id. at 11-15, 25-26.) The City asks that the Coalition's complaint be dismissed in its entirety. ( See id. at 5.)


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. Cnty. of L.A., 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that reasonable persons could disagree about whether the facts claimed by the moving party are true. Aydin Corp. v. Loral Corp., 718 F.2d 897, 902 (9th Cir. 1983).

[T]he issue of material fact required... to be present to entitle a party to proceed to trial is not required to be resolved conclusively in favor of the party asserting its existence; rather, all that is required is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.

First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

The court is "required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the [non-moving] party." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The court may not weigh evidence or make credibility determinations in analyzing a motion for summary judgment because these are "jury functions, not those of a judge." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets his or her burden, the non-moving party "must make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the existence of the essential elements of his case that he must prove at trial." Galen, 477 F.3d at 658.

B. Ripeness

The City argues that the Coalition's claims are not ripe for judicial determination. (Mot. at 15-24.) The City argues that the Coalition's claims can only be decided with reference to events that may or may not happen in the future-namely, a Coalition member being subject to the ordinance. ( Id. ) As such, the City argues that the court either lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the Coalition's claims or should dismiss the case under the prudential prong of the ripeness doctrine. ( Id. ) For the reasons discussed below, the court agrees with the City. However, for purposes ...

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