United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT CITY OF LYNDEN'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Defendant City of Lynden's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 54). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the Motion for the reasons explained herein. All claims (Claims A-E in the Amended Complaint) against the City and its various departments are hereby DISMISSED with prejudice. The City and its various departments are DISMISSED from this case, with prejudice. Plaintiff's Amended Response (Dkt. No. 83) and its accompanying attachments are STRICKEN for failure to comply with the Local Rules and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
This Court's Order re Defendants' Anti-SLAPP Motion (Dkt. No. 63) and Protective Order (Dkt. No. 68) contain a complete exposition of the background of this case.
Plaintiff, a Tacoma real estate investor, has brought multiple claims against several public and private entities located in Lynden, Washington. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains a state law defamation claim against the Lynden Tribune and its editor (which the Court has by now dismissed, see Dkt. No. 63), "civil rights, " "constitutional, " and "equal protections" claims against the municipal government of Lynden, a "Federal Hate Crime and Sabotage" claim against several unnamed private citizens of Lynden, and an "Interference with Business Expectancy" claim against Lynden Chamber of Commerce Manager Gary Vis. (Dkt. No. 51; see also Plaintiff's Sur-Reply, Dkt. No. 82.)
The basis for these claims consists of (1) Plaintiff's allegation that private Lynden residents gossiped about him and dissuaded prospective tenants from renting space in his Mall (Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 51 at 4-5); (2) Plaintiff's allegations that certain acts of low level vandalism were not sufficiently investigated by the Lynden Police ( id. at 6-7); (3) Plaintiff's allegations that the City inspected his property more frequently than other properties ( id. at 4); (4) Plaintiff's allegations that the Lynden Tribune published a defamatory article reporting: (a) the decaying state of Plaintiff's Mall; (b) the number of tenants who left due to what the article cited as Plaintiff's absenteeism, inattentiveness to Mall maintenance, and penchant for suing his tenants; and (c) Washington State Department of Health shut downs at other properties owned by Plaintiff ( id. at 6); and (5) Plaintiff's allegations that the Manager of the Chamber of Commerce, Gary Vis, interfered with his business expectancies, such as by urging Plaintiff to lower the rents for local businesses ( id. at 4).
Plaintiff summarizes his claims by stating that Lynden writ large has "lynched [him] in the most primitive and outrageous form of discrimination, " (Complaint, Dkt. No. 1 at 1), explaining that "[i]n this case, the enemies are like terrorists. Plaintiff doesn't know where they are and who they are, but they are everywhere repeatedly and relentlessly attacking him in the dark." (Plaintiff's Objection to Defendants' Anti-SLAPP Motion, Dkt. No. 24 at 9.) He posits that Defendants' alleged offenses have been motivated by "senseless hatred" and discrimination. (Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 51 at 1, 7.) Plaintiff seeks relief from this "violent community" of Lynden, and its "vigilantes, " "prejudice, " and "redneck[s]." (Plaintiff's Objection to Defendants' Anti-SLAPP Motion, Dkt. No. 24 at 7, 9; Declaration of Jiangong Lei, Dkt. No. 78, Ex. 1 at 2.)
Defendants are of the opinion that this suit is an attempt to affix blame for the poor investment returns of Lynden's Dutch Village Mall, which Plaintiff Jiangong Lei purchased on December 29th, 2006 for $1.23 million dollars. (Defendants' Answer to Complaint, Dkt. No. 22 at 2.) Defendants allege that Plaintiff did not maintain the Mall, which fell into disrepair during his ownership. Defendants further allege that Plaintiff was "unreasonable" and "difficult" with his tenants, causing the property to decline. Plaintiff sold the Mall at a loss in -. Defendants explain that Plaintiff has a long "documented history of using litigation and the threat of litigation to intimidate and harass others." (Motion for Protective Order, Dkt. No. 48 at 2.)
Plaintiff's only cognizable claims against the City are the constitutionally based Claims A and B of his Amended Complaint. Claim A is termed "Violation of Civil Rights" by Plaintiff. Plaintiff asserts no specific cause of action and elucidates no legal standards under this claim (neither in the Amended Complaint nor in the hundreds of pages Plaintiff has since filed in this matter) - "[n]o single form of civil right violation describes this broad community racial action." (Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 51 at 8.) Claim B is termed "Violation of Constitutional Rights" by Plaintiff. Neither does Plaintiff assert a specific cause of action and nor elucidate any legal standards under this claim (neither in his Amended Complaint nor in the hundreds of pages he has since filed in this matter). ( Id. at 8-9.)
However, the specific factual allegations Plaintiff makes do yield colorable claims for selective enforcement and failure to investigate by the City. The Court finds, for the reasons explained below, that Defendant City of Lynden is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on any claim or cause of action arising under Plaintiff's Claim A for Violation of Civil Rights and Claim B for Violation of Constitutional Rights.
Claim C ("Libel and Slander, and Instigation of Hatred"), Claim D ("Harassment, Assault, Sabotage and Federal Hate Crime"), and Claim E ("Interference of Business Expectancy and Conflict of Interest") do not include any allegations against the City, nor do the facts pled by Plaintiff suggest that any of these claims apply to the City. ( Id. at 9-10.) Plaintiff appears to concede in his Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment that he did not intend Claims C, D, and E to apply to the City. ( See Dkt. No. 78 at 10.)
As a preliminary procedural matter, the Court strikes Plaintiff's Amended Response and all its attachments (Dkt. No. 83) for failure to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of the Western District of Washington. Plaintiff has expressed dissatisfaction with the time given to prepare his Response. ( See Response, Dkt. No. 78 at 1.) This dissatisfaction is inapposite - through the conjunction of several factors, Plaintiff received almost fifty additional days, above and beyond what the Local Rules require he be provided, to prepare his Response.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
"Summary judgment is appropriate only if, taking the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If, as to any given material fact, evidence produced by the moving party... conflicts with evidence produced by the nonmoving party..., [the court] must assume the truth of the evidence set forth by the nonmoving party with respect to that material fact." Furnace v. Sullivan, 705 F.3d 1021, 1026 (9th Cir. 2013) (emphasis added). However, as the Supreme Court has held, "[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
B. Selective Enforcement
The first basis for Plaintiff's equal protection/civil rights/constitutional claims is that "the City... inspected Plaintiff's building more frequently than... other buildings in the town." (Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 51 at 4.) Plaintiff does not identify the specific cause of action he wishes to invoke with this allegation or the elements of such a claim. Given these voids, the Court has construed these particular allegations as pleading a claim for selective enforcement, as this is the equal protection cause of action most nearly implicated by the facts alleged by Plaintiff.
Selective enforcement occurs when the enforcement or prosecution of a law is "directed so exclusively against a particular class of persons... with a mind so unequal and oppressive" that the administration of the law amounts to a "practical denial of equal protection of the law." United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456, 464 (1996); see also Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886). To avoid liability for selective enforcement, public officers may not base their decisions to enforce laws against a person on "an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification." Armstrong, 517 U.S. at 464; see also Oyler v. Boles, 368 U.S. 448 456 (1962). The constitutional prohibitions on selective enforcement apply not only to penal laws but also to the selective enforcement of civil ordinances. See e.g., Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1994).
However, it is the claimant's burden to prove selective enforcement - courts begin with the presumption that governmental actors have not violated equal protection. United States v. Bennett, 539 F.2d 45, 54 (10th Cir.), cert. denied 429 U.S. 925 (1976) ...