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Crystal Ridge Homeowners Ass'n v. City of Bothell

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

February 12, 2015

Crystal Ridge Homeowners Association et al., Respondents ,
The City of Bothell \, Petitioner

Argued June 10, 2014

Reconsideration denied April 15, 2015.

Page 747

Appeal from Snohomish County Superior Court. 10-2-10147-9. Honorable Ronald L Castleberry.

Stephanie E. Croll and Amanda G. Butler (of Keating Bucklin & McCormack Inc. PS ); and Joseph N. Beck, City Attorney, for petitioner.

Karen A. Willie, Bradley E. Neunzig, and Michael D. Daudt (of Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC ), for respondents.

Daniel B. Heid on behalf of Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys, amicus curiae.

AUTHOR: Justice Charles K. Wiggins. WE CONCUR: Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Steven C. González. AUTHOR: Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Mary I. Yu.


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[182 Wn.2d 667] Wiggins, J.

¶ 1 We must decide whether the city of Bothell assumed responsibility for maintaining a drainage pipe installed in Crystal Ridge, a residential subdivision in Snohomish County. Crystal Ridge was developed from two residential plats that Snohomish County approved in 1987. The area became incorporated into the city of Bothell (City) in 1992. One of the plats contained a drainage easement within a tract owned by the Crystal Ridge Homeowners Association (HOA). The plat dedicated that drainage easement to Snohomish County. Ordinarily, approval of a plat by a county constitutes acceptance by the county of any easements dedicated therein. The City, however, argues that the disputed drainage pipe is outside the scope of the drainage easement that the City inherited from Snohomish County.

¶ 2 We disagree and hold that the only reasonable interpretation of the Crystal Ridge plat is that Snohomish County--and therefore the City--assumed responsibility for maintaining the drainage pipe. We therefore affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of respondents.


¶ 3 In 1987, Snohomish County approved development of two residential plats collectively called Crystal Ridge. At the time, the area encompassing Crystal Ridge was part of [182 Wn.2d 668] unincorporated Snohomish County (County). In 1992, five years after the Crystal Ridge plats were approved, the area became incorporated into the City.

¶ 4 Naturally occurring wet soil conditions posed a substantial challenge to the development of Crystal Ridge. In his decision approving the Crystal Ridge plats, the County's hearing examiner, John E. Galt, noted three potential sources for the saturated soil in his findings: (1) " subsurface water," or groundwater, that " has been stored in porous soil layers upslope of the site," (2) " septic tank drainfields in the development upslope," and (3) " leakage from storm drains or water lines." Decision of Hr'g Exam'r at 3. To alleviate these wet soil conditions, consulting geotechnical engineer Dr. Gordon Denby stated in his report to the hearing examiner that " an interceptor trench or trenches along the west property line would be necessary in order to intercept the groundwater flow and dewater the site so that residential construction could occur." Id. The trench would have to be " as much as 12 feet deep in order to accomplish the desired purpose." Id. The hearing examiner included the following conclusion in his decision:

The most critical issue involved in the instant proposal is subsurface and surface drainage. The simple reality is that this site is not your typical piece of property and that typical drainage standards would probably not adequately protect the public use and interest. ... The recommendations made by [Dr. Denby] should be made mandatory conditions of project approval.

Id. at 7.

¶ 5 To this end, the hearing examiner required the developer to install an underground pipe to intercept and divert water away from the site. The interceptor pipe was placed 11 feet underground in an area labeled " Tract 999" on the plat. Groundwater captured by the interceptor pipe was directed to a pond on adjacent private property.

¶ 6 The recorded plat showed that Tract 999 would be owned by the HOA subject to an easement described as a [182 Wn.2d 669] " 25' sanitary sewer (A.W.D.) and drainage easement." The plat further provided that " drainage easements designated on this plat are hereby

Page 749

reserved for and granted to Snohomish County for the right of ingress and egress for the purpose of maintaining and operating stormwater facilities." Tract 999 contained two buried pipes located in the same trench: a sewer pipe belonging to the Alderwood Water District (the " A.W.D." referenced in the above-quoted description of Tract 999) and the interceptor pipe.

¶ 7 In 2010, the HOA and several individual homeowners (respondents) sued the City, alleging that the interceptor pipe had failed and damaged several properties within the development. [1] Respondents moved for summary judgment, seeking a declaratory judgment that the City, as successor to the County, was responsible for maintaining the interceptor pipe. The City filed a cross motion for summary judgment, seeking a declaratory judgment that the HOA was responsible for the interceptor pipe. The trial court denied the City's motion and granted summary judgment in favor of respondents. The trial court then certified the issue to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's ruling in favor of respondents. Crystal Ridge Homeowners Ass'n v. City of Bothell , noted at 175 Wn.App. 1047, 2013 WL 3872223.


¶ 8 Dedications of land to public entities like the County and the City are controlled by chapter 58.17 RCW (subdivision act), which governs plats, subdivisions, and dedications. The legislature enacted the current iteration of the subdivision act in 1969. [2] The act's express purpose is, among other things:

[182 Wn.2d 670] to regulate the subdivision of land and to promote the public health, safety and general welfare in accordance with standards established by the state to prevent the overcrowding of land; ... to promote effective use of land; to promote safe and convenient travel by the public on streets and highways; ... to facilitate adequate provision for water, sewerage, parks and recreation areas, sites for schools and schoolgrounds and other public requirements; ... to provide for the expeditious review and approval of proposed subdivisions which conform to zoning standards and local plans and policies; [and] to adequately provide for the housing and commercial needs of the citizens of the state. ...

RCW 58.17.010 (emphasis added).

¶ 9 The subdivision act also sets forth the requirements for a statutory dedication:

" Dedication" is the deliberate appropriation of land by an owner for any general and public uses, reserving to himself or herself no other rights than such as are compatible with the full exercise and enjoyment of the public uses to which the property has been devoted. The intention to dedicate shall be evidenced by the owner by the presentment for filing of a final plat or short plat showing the dedication thereon; and, the acceptance by the public shall be evidenced by the approval of such plat for filing by the appropriate governmental unit.

RCW 58.17.020(3).

¶ 10 The parties do not dispute that such a statutory dedication of Tract 999's drainage easement occurred, [3] nor do they dispute that the County accepted this dedication. [4] Rather,

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the dispute centers on two issues: the scope of the [182 Wn.2d 671] drainage easement and the associated dedication, and whether interpreting the easement to include the interceptor pipe would run afoul of the restrictions on the use of public funds contained in article VIII, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. We decline to reach the latter argument because the City failed to raise it prior to filing its petition for review.

¶ 11 The remaining issue, whether the drainage easement includes the interceptor pipe, is essentially a matter of plat interpretation. Specifically, the City argues that the interceptor pipe does not fall within the scope of the drainage easement and that the interceptor pipe therefore was not dedicated to the County. Consequently, the City claims neither the County nor the City ever accepted responsibility for maintaining the interceptor pipe. We disagree and hold that the County--and therefore the City--assumed responsibility for maintaining the interceptor pipe as part of Tract 999's drainage easement.

l. Plat Interpretation

¶ 12 A " plat" is " [a] map describing a piece of land and its features, such as boundaries, lots, roads, and easements." Black's Law Dictionary 1337 (10th ed. 2014). In construing easements in a plat, the dedicator's intent controls. Roeder Co. v. Burlington N., Inc. 105 Wn.2d 269, 273, 714 P.2d 1170 (1986). We determine intent from the marks and lines on the plat itself. Id. If the plat is ambiguous as to the dedicator's intent, courts may consider surrounding circumstances, id., including extrinsic evidence. Rainier View Court Homeowners Ass'n v. Zenker, 157 Wn.App. 710, 720, 238 P.3d 1217 (2010). Here, no ambiguity surrounds the easement in question. Moreover, even if we were to read the ...

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