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Dahlstrom v. Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe of Washington

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

January 31, 2017



          JAMES L. ROBART, United States District Judge.


         Before the court are Defendant Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe of Washington's (“the Sauk-Suiattle” or “the Tribe”) (1) motion seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO Mot. (Dkt. # 15)), and (2) motion to expedite the hearing on its motion for a temporary restraining order (Mot. to Exp. (Dkt. 16)). The court has reviewed both motions, [1] all submissions filed in support of and opposition thereto, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [2] the court DENIES both motions.


         On January 12, 2016, Plaintiff Raju Dahlstrom filed a complaint under seal pursuant to the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act (“FCA”), 32 U.S.C. § 3729-33 and the Washington State Medicaid Fraud and False Claims Act (“MFFCA”), RCW 74.66.005, et seq. (Compl. (Dkt. # 1).) The Sauk-Suiattle is a federally recognized Native American tribe in Darrington, Washington. (Id. ¶ 31; Gov't Mot. (Dkt. # 4) at 2.) Defendant Community Natural Medicine, PLLC (“CNM”) is a health clinic in Arlington, Washington. (See Gov't Mot. at 2.) The complaint also lists Defendants Christine Marie Jody Morlock, N.D., and Robert Larry Morlock, who are the owners of CNM, as well as Ronda Kay Metcalf, who is the Director of the Indian Health Service (“IHS”) and the Health Clinic of the Sauk-Suiattle. (See Compl. at 2; Gov't Mot. at 2.)

         The Sauk-Suiattle employed Mr. Dahlstrom from 2010 through his termination on December 8, 2015. (Compl. ¶ 30.) The Tribe initially hired Mr. Dahlstrom as a Case Manager, but in April 2015, the Tribe promoted him to Director. (Gov't Mot. at 3.) He alleges that Defendants knowingly presented or caused to be presented false or fraudulent claims to the United States (and by extension, the State of Washington) by: (1) approving payments of cosmetic dentistry for two individuals; (2) allowing an individual to use vaccines specifically donated to the Sauk-Suiattle for that individual's own private business; (3) fraudulently certifying compliance with the IHS Loan Repayment Program; (4) using government funds to secretly purchase land originally meant for residential care for children, and after acquiring the land, dropping the programs for children; and (5) fraudulently using government resources designated for healthcare facility costs. (Id.; see generally Compl.)

         On September 26, 2016, the United States of America and Washington State notified the court of their decision not to intervene in the action at this time. (Notice (Dkt. # 8) at 2 (citing 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(4)(B) and RCW 74.66.050).) Accordingly, on September 28, 2016, the court ordered the case unsealed and ordered Mr. Dahlstrom to serve Defendants. (9/28/16 Order (Dkt. # 9).)

         On January 12, 2017, the Sauk-Suiattle filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Dahlstrom's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (MTD (Dkt. # 13).) On January 24, 2017, the Sauk-Suiattle filed a motion for a temporary restraining order seeking to “restrain[] [Mr. Dahlstrom] from contact with . . . [D]efendants or attempting to personally serve summonses thereon pending the [c]ourt's ruling on [D]efendants' motion to dismiss . . . .” (TRO Mot. (Dkt. # 15) at 1.) The Sauk-Suiattle assert that Mr. Dahlstrom “has traveled to the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Reservation, made inquiries and derogatory statements about [the] [D]efendants, and appears to be engaging in a pattern of harassment and intimidation toward [D]efendants.” (Id. at 2.) The Sauk-Suiattle further assert that because Mr. Dahlstrom “is (a) represented by counsel, and (b) not a person disinterested in the civil action competent to serve process, and because (c) the merit of [Mr. Dahlstrom's] complaint is questionable, the [c]ourt should enter an order restraining . . . [Mr.] Dahlstrom or his designees from further attempts to contact or serve process upon [D]efendants.” (Id.)

         The Sauk-Suiattle's motion for a temporary restraining order also contains unsworn and unverified attachments that purport to be either letters or text messages from certain Defendants in this action. (See TRO Mot. Exs. (Dkt. ## 15-1, 15-2.) The letters and texts indicate that Mr. Dahlstrom had been at the residences of certain Defendants and attempted to give papers to certain Defendants. (Id.)

         Mr. Dahlstrom filed a response to the Sauk-Suiattle's motion on January 26, 2017. (Resp. (Dkt. # 19).)[3] The Sauk-Suiattle filed a reply memorandum the same day. (Reply (Dkt. # 20).) In response to Mr. Dahlstrom's assertion that the evidence submitted by the Sauk-Suiattle was inadmissible as hearsay under Federal Rule of Evidence 802 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 43(c) (see Resp. at 2), the Sauk-Suiattle submitted three declarations with their reply memorandum. (Metcalf Decl. (Dkt. # 20-1); Harris Decl. (Dkt. # 20-2); Roberts Decl. (Dkt. # 20-3).) The court now considers Mr. Dahlstrom's motions. //

         III. ANALYSIS

         The standard for issuing a temporary restraining order is the same as that for the issuance of preliminary injunction. See New Motor Vehicle Bd. of Cal. v. Orrin W. Fox Co., 434 U.S. 1345, 1347 n.2 (1977). A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.” Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). “The proper legal standard for preliminary injunctive relief requires a party to demonstrate (1) ‘that he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest.'” Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, 586 F.3d 1109, 1127 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Winter, 555 U.S. at 20). As a corollary to this test, the Ninth Circuit has also found that a preliminary injunction is appropriate if “serious questions going to the merits were raised and the balance of the hardships tips sharply in the plaintiff's favor, ” thereby allowing preservation of the status quo where complex legal questions require further inspection or deliberation. Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1134-35 (9th Cir. 2011). However, following Winter, the “serious questions” approach supports a temporary restraining order only so long as the plaintiff also shows that there is a likelihood of irreparable injury and that the injunction is in the public interest. Id. at 1135. The moving party bears the burden of persuasion and must make a clear showing that it is entitled to such relief. Winter, 555 U.S. at 22.

         The Tribe fail to meet neither standard. Indeed, the Tribe fails to even address how it meets the elements of the required Winter or Cottrell standards. The motion seeks two forms of relief: (1) to restrain Mr. Dahlstrom “or his designees” from attempting to serve Defendants prior to the court's decision on the Sauk-Suiattle's motion to dismiss, and (2) to restrain Mr. Dahlstrom from having any contact with Defendants. (TRO Mot. at 1; id. at 2 (“[T]he [c]ourt should enter an order restraining Plaintiff Dahlstrom or his designees from further attempts to contact or serve process upon [D]efendants.”).) The court will address these issues in turn.

         First, the Sauk-Suiattle cites no legal authority in support of the notion that the court can issue a temporary restraining order to prevent service of process pending a motion to dismiss.[4] (See generally TRO Mot.) More importantly, the Tribe fails to demonstrate irreparable harm if the court declines to issue an order temporarily restraining service of process pending the court's decision on the Tribe's motion to dismiss. (See generally id.) If the Sauk-Suiattle believes that Mr. Dahlstrom's apparent efforts to serve process upon Defendants in this action are improper, then a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(4) for insufficient process or Rule ...

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