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Docken v. City of Edgewood

United States District Court, Western District of Washington, Tacoma

April 2, 2015

ERIC DOCKEN, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF EDGEWOOD, MARK BAUER, and JANE DOE BAUER, and the marital community comprised thereof, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, MOTION TO COMPEL AND MOTION TO REMAND

Robert J. Bryan United States District Judge

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Re: Violation of Civil Rights Act (Dkt. 24), Defendants’ Cross Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissing Plaintiffs’ First Cause of Action (42 U.S.C. § 1983) (Dkt. 29), Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Dismissing Plaintiffs’ Second Cause of Action (Dkt. 31, re-filed and referred herein as Dkt. 32), Plaintiffs’ Motion for Remand to Washington State Court, to Terminate all Motions, Stay Discovery, and for Award of Fees and Costs (Dkt. 37), and Defendants’ Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Disclose Computation of Damages Being Claimed and Supporting Documentation as Required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1)(A)(iii) (Dkt. 33). The Court has considered the pleadings filed regarding the motions and the file.

In this civil rights case, Plaintiff property owners seek damages and other relief against the City of Edgewood, Washington, the City Manager, Mark Bauer, and Mr. Bauer’s wife and marital community, for the violation of Plaintiffs’ due process rights in connection with an attempted 2011 assessment for construction of a proposed sewer system. Dkt. 1-1.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 13, 2014, the Washington State Court of Appeals annulled the assessments on statutory grounds and then held that the City of Edgewood also “denied the owners’ due process right to a meaningful opportunity to be heard.” Hasit LLC v. City of Edgewood (Local Improvement Dist. #1), 179 Wash.App. 917, 954 (2014).

After the 30 day period for appeal or reconsideration of that decision lapsed, Plaintiffs filed this action in Pierce County Superior Court. Docken v. City of Edgewood, Pierce County Washington Superior Court Case number 14-2-07968-6. In Plaintiffs’ First Cause of Action, they seek damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et. seq., for violation of their procedural due process rights as found by the Washington State Court of Appeals in Hasit. Dkt. 1, at 20. In their Second Cause of Action, Plaintiffs seek an injunctive relief: an order enjoining the City from assessing to them the legal costs, including attorneys’ fees, associated with “litigating its unconstitutional assessment process.” Id.

Defendants removed this case on May 2, 2014, asserting that this court had subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal question, because Plaintiffs were seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et. seq. Dkt. 1. Defendants’ Answer, filed June 24, 2014, asserts, in part, that Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the Tax Injunction Act (“TIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1341. Dkt. 14, at 23.

Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Re: Violation of Civil Rights Act, arguing that summary judgment should be entered as to the Defendants’ liability for violating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. Dkt. 24. Plaintiffs state that a trial will be necessary to determine damages. Id.

Defendants responded timely (Dkt. 28) and filed their Cross Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissing Plaintiffs’ First Cause of Action (42 U.S.C. § 1983) (Dkt. 29). Defendants filed an additional motion, seeking dismissal of Plaintiffs’ second cause of action. Dkt. 32. In both motions, Defendants argue that the Court does not have jurisdiction to consider either of Plaintiffs’ causes of action because of the TIA, and even if it did, should not exercise jurisdiction under the doctrine of comity. Dkts. 29 and 32. Defendants also advance other arguments for dismissal. Id.

As ordered by the Court, Plaintiffs filed a combined response to the Defendants’ motions and reply to their own motion on March 23, 2015. Dkt. 36. In this pleading, Plaintiffs also argue that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider Plaintiffs’ claims under TIA and /or should decline to exercise any jurisdiction it may have for comity reasons. Id.

The same day, Plaintiffs also filed their motion for remand, again arguing that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction pursuant the TIA. Dkt. 37. In that motion, Plaintiffs argue that the Court should remand the case, terminate all motions, stay discovery and award them fees and costs “associated with the unwarranted federal phase of this litigation directly as a result of Defendants’ legal maneuvers.” Id., at 2-3. The motion to remand is noted for consideration on April 17, 2015. Id.

Defendants also have pending a motion to compel discovery. Dkt. 33. That motion is noted for April 3, 2015. Id.

II. DISCUSSION

A. CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - THE TIA AND THE DOCTRINE OF COMITY

The TIA provides that federal district courts “shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State.” 28 U.S.C. § 1341. “The Supreme Court repeatedly has characterized the Act as a ‘broad jurisdictional barrier, ’ which ‘limits drastically federal district court jurisdiction to interfere with so important a local concern as the collection of taxes.’” Lowe v. Washoe County., 627 F.3d 1151, 1155 (9th Cir. 2010)(quoting Arkansas v. Farm Credit Servs. of Cent. Ark., 520 U.S. 821, 825 (1997) and California v. Grace Brethren Church, 457 U.S. 393, 408–09 (1982)). The TIA prohibits both declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as § 1983 suits for damages. Id. (internal citations omitted).

Under the doctrine of comity, federal courts are counseled to “resist entanglement in certain cases falling within their jurisdiction.” Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc., 560 U.S. 413, 424 (2010). “[P]rinciples of federalism and comity generally counsel that courts should adopt a hands-off approach with respect to state tax administration.” Nat'l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n, 515 U.S. 582, 586 (1995). “The comity doctrine is more embracive than the TIA.” Levin, at 424.

Parties agree that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction and/or if it does have jurisdiction should not exercise it under the doctrine of comity. The Court will not reach the parties’ remaining arguments raised in their motions for summary judgment. Defendants’ Motions (Dkts. 29, 31 refiled as 32) should be granted to the extent that it argues that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction or that if it does, that under the doctrine of comity, should not exercise jurisdiction and should be stricken as moot in all other respects. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 24) should be stricken as moot, in light of the fact that Plaintiffs now also argue that the court either doesn’t have jurisdiction or should not exercise it. All deadlines, including the discovery deadline, should be stricken.

As urged by Plaintiffs, the case should be remanded to Pierce County Washington Superior Court. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ first cause of action is barred by res judicata and so the Court should dismiss that claim with prejudice because remanding the matter would be futile. Dkt. 38. It is not entirely certain that the claims are barred by res judicata, and for reasons of comity, the Court declines Defendants’ invitation to dismiss the claim with prejudice.

In addition to its arguments regarding the TIA, Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs’ second cause of action should be dismissed with prejudice, arguing in part, that the claims are moot, that Plaintiffs have an adequate remedy at law and so injunctive relief is not available, and they should have appealed the contingency assessment for legal fees in 2011. Dkt. 39. Again, parties agree the Court does not have jurisdiction to consider this claim under the TIA, and for reasons of comity the Court will not further consider the arguments raised. The case should be remanded to the Pierce County Superior Court.

B. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO COMPEL

Defendants’ Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Disclose Computation of Damages Being Claimed and Supporting Documentation as Required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1)(A)(iii) (Dkt. 33) should be stricken because this Court does not have jurisdiction to consider the case.

C. PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO REMAND, TO STRIKE ALL MOTIONS AND FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES

Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand to Washington State Court, to Terminate all Motions, Stay Discovery, and for Award of Fees and Costs (Dkt. 37) is noted for consideration on April 17, 2015. The motion should be stricken as moot as to all the relief it seeks except for the motion for award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1447(c). Defendants' response, if any, should only address the motion for award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1447(c) and should otherwise be filed in accord with the Fed.R.Civ.P. and the Local Rules of the Western District of Washington.

III. ORDER

IT IS ORDERED:

• Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Re: Violation of Civil Rights Act (Dkt 24) IS STRICKEN AS MOOT;

• Defendants' Cross Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissing Plaintiffs' First Cause of Action (42 U.S.C. § 1983) (Dkt. 29) IS GRANTED to the extent that it argues that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction or that if it does, that under the doctrine of comity, should not exercise jurisdiction, and IS STRICKEN AS MOOT in all other respects;

• Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Dismissing Plaintiffs' Second Cause of Action (Dkt. 31, re-filed and referred herein as Dkt. 32) IS GRANTED to the extent that it argues that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction or that if it does, that under the doctrine of comity, should not exercise jurisdiction, and IS STRICKEN AS MOOT in all other respects;

• Defendants' Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Disclose Computation of Damages Being Claimed and Supporting Documentation as Required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1)(A)(iii) (Dkt. 33) IS STRICKEN;

• Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand to Washington State Court, to Terminate all Motions, Stay Discovery, and for Award of Fees and Costs (Dkt. 37) IS STRICKEN AS MOOT as to all requests for relief except the motion for attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1447(c); and

• Defendants' response to Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand to Washington State Court, to Terminate all Motions, Stay Discovery, and for Award of Fees and Costs (Dkt. 37), if any, shall only address the motion for award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1447(c) and should otherwise be filed in accord with the Fed.R.Civ.P. and the Local Rules of the Western District of Washington.

The Clerk is directed to send uncertified copies of this Order to all counsel of record and to any party appearing pro se at said party's last known address.


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