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Block v. Snohomish County

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

December 1, 2014

ANNE BLOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, et al., Defendants

Anne K Block, an individual, Plaintiff, Pro se, Monroe, WA.

For Snohomish County, a Washington County and Municipal Government, Tamera Doherty, individually and in her official capacity as defendant Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management Assistant Deputy Director, John Pennington, his marital community with defendant Crystal Pennington, his wife, individually, and in his official capacity as Director of Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, Christopher Schwartzen, indivividually and in his official capacity as an employee of defendant Snohomish County, Brian Parry, individually and in official capacity as an employee of defendant Snohomish County, Diana Rose, individually and in her official capacity as an employee and public records officer for defendant Snohomish County, Defendants: Sean D. Reay, SNOHOMISH COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY (ROCKEFELLER), EVERETT, WA.

For The City of Gold Bar, a Washington Municipal Corporation, Joe Beavers, individually and in his capacity as defendant City of Gold Bar Council Member, Mayor and Public Records Officer, Crystal Pennington, (nee Hill), her marital community with defendant John Pennington, her husband, individually, and in her official capacity as defendant City of Gold Bar Mayor, Florence Davi Martin, individually and in her official capacity as defendant City of Gold Bar Council Member, Christopher Michael Wright, individually and in his official capacity as defendant City of Gold Bar Council Member, Defendants: Michael R Kenyon, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ann Marie Josephine Soto, KENYON DISEND, ISSAQUAH, WA; Patrick McMahon, CARLSON MCMAHON & SEALBY, WENATCHEE, WA.

For Aaron Reardon, individually and in his official capacity as Snohomish County Executive, Jon Rudicil, individually and in his official capacity as an employee and public records officer of defendant Snohomish County, Defendants: Shannon M Ragonesi, KEATING BUCKLIN & MCCORMACK, SEATTLE, WA.

For Kevin Hulten, individually and in his official capacity as an employee of defendant Snohomish County, Defendant: John Turner Kugler, TURNER KUGLER LAW, PLLC, SEATTLE, WA.

ORDER

Honorable Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on two motions to dismiss Plaintiff Anne Block's complaint, as well as a motion to sanction Ms. Block. No one has requested oral argument, and the court finds oral argument unnecessary. For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS the motions to dismiss (Dkt. ## 12, 13), dismisses Plaintiff's complaint, and orders her to submit an amended complaint in compliance with this order no later than December 23, 2014. The court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motion for sanctions. Dkt. # 40. Parts III and IV of this order contain specific instructions to Ms. Block as to filing her amended complaint and to the parties as to their conduct in this litigation. The clerk shall LIFT THE STAY that the court imposed in its July 29, 2014 order.

II. BACKGROUND

It is not the court's practice to begin orders with discussions of the conduct of one of the litigants. This is no ordinary case. The court has already stayed it so that it could ensure that Ms. Block did not continue to misuse this litigation as a weapon in her campaign against officials in the City of Gold Bar and Snohomish County. Although the court will lift that stay in this order, it cannot do so without imposing restrictions on Ms. Block's conduct. The record before the court suggests that Ms. Block's desire to make life more difficult for the employees and officials she targets has overridden her basic obligations in litigating this case. In particular, as the court will soon discuss, her complaint fails to state a claim. This order is designed to allow Ms. Block an opportunity to articulate a claim while ensuring that her conduct in pursuing this litigation complies with standards of decency that apply to the parties who appear before this court.

A. Ms. Block's Conduct

The record before the court reveals that this case, in which Ms. Block contends that various Defendants associated with the City of Gold Bar and Snohomish County violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, is but a part of a larger campaign. In the course of pursuing this lawsuit, Ms. Block has threatened additional lawsuits against at least two of the Defendants and against counsel for the Defendants. She has offered no evidence to counter Defendants' evidence that in conversations with Defendants' counsel about this case, she uses abusive profanity to refer to individual Defendants. Evidence from two witnesses that Ms. Block twice called one of Defendants' attorneys a " piece of shit" while visiting a Snohomish County building is more compelling than Ms. Block's bare denial that she did so. She has lobbed unsubstantiated accusations that Defendants' counsel and Defendants themselves have threatened her with violence. She has shared those unsubstantiated allegations with Snohomish County officials who are not Defendants and has made efforts to broadcast those allegations to the public. She has used public records requests revealing telephone records of Defendants' attorneys to contact others to share the same unsubstantiated allegations. Although she brought this case, she has refused to satisfy basic case obligations, including her obligation to meet and confer with opposing counsel regarding case scheduling, and her obligation to timely respond to motions. She does so, moreover, while chastising counsel for Defendants for unspecified (and, so far as the court is aware, wholly imaginary) violations of court rules.

There is, in short, much evidence that Ms. Block had conducted herself in a blustering and boorish fashion, both as a litigant in this case and as a citizen of Snohomish County. From a personal perspective, the court sympathizes with those who must deal with her abysmal behavior. From a legal perspective, however, there is relatively little that the court can do. As Ms. Block is quick to point out, she has a right to behave abominably, provided she does not violate criminal statutes, other laws, or court rules. The court has inherent authority to regulate the conduct of the parties who appear before it, and it has exercised that authority. On July 29, after Defendants brought evidence of some of Ms. Block's more egregious conduct before the court, the court stayed this litigation and prohibited virtually all case-related communication between Ms. Block and Defendants and their counsel. The court will continue to do what it can to ensure that communications related to this action are conducted civilly. The court cannot, however, prevent Ms. Block from continuing to harangue whomever she chooses as part of her ongoing campaign against Snohomish County and others. This court presides over this litigation; it does not preside over Ms. Block's conduct outside this litigation.

Among the unfortunate consequences of Ms. Block's conduct is that while the record amply reveals that she spends substantial time in her campaign to harry County employees and others, she has apparently devoted little time to articulating her claims in this lawsuit. In public discourse, nothing prevents Ms. Block from lobbing unsubstantiated allegations. In this lawsuit, she will ultimately bear the burden of proving her allegations. For now, she must at least articulate those allegations in a way that plausibly states a claim upon which the court can grant relief. As the court will now discuss, the complaint before the court does not plausibly state a claim.

B. Allegations of Ms. Block's Complaint

Ms. Block has sued fourteen Defendants for violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Five of the Defendants (the " Gold Bar Defendants") are the City of Gold Bar, its current and former mayor, and two members of its city council. The remaining nine Defendants (the " County Defendants") are Snohomish County and eight of its current and former officers or employees. Six of the County Defendants are current employees or officers represented by the same counsel, two of the former employees or officials (Aaron Reardon and John Rudicil) have different counsel. It is these two groups of County Defendants who have filed the motions to dismiss before the court. Neither the Gold Bar Defendants nor Defendant Kevin Hulten (a County Defendant represented by separate counsel) have joined the motions.

According to Ms. Block, the County Defendants are liable both for retaliating against her for exercising her First Amendment rights and for conspiring to retaliate. The court describes the facts as Ms. Block alleges them in her operative complaint.[1] The court suggests no opinion on the truth of those allegations.

In 2008, Ms. Block began serving Gold Bar officials with a series of public records requests. Gold Bar was ill-equipped to respond to the requests, and was forced to undergo substantial expense to respond. Displeased with Ms. Block's requests (as well as her enforcement efforts and follow-up requests), the Gold Bar Defendants " agreed among themselves to retaliate against Plaintiff." ¶ 3.3. Ms. Block alleges nothing about when this agreement occurred or how it occurred.

Ms. Block became convinced that Defendant John Pennington (a Snohomish County Defendant) had unspecified " involvement" with his wife, Defendant Crystal Pennington (who was, at the time, the Mayor of Gold Bar), " regarding personal legal work on government equipment and servers . . . ." ¶ 3.6. She thus served public records requests on Snohomish County, seeking communications between Mr. and Mrs. Pennington. Id. Later, when she learned that Mr. Reardon, the Snohomish County Executive, " was paying with taxpayer money for out of town trysts with two women, " she filed more public records ...


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