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King v. Rumbaugh

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

April 6, 2017

CHRISTOPHER KING, J.D., et al., Plaintiffs,




         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs Christopher King, J.D., Wally Brown, and Chris Nubbe's Motion for Leave to file a First Amended Complaint (Dkt. #20), Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand (Dkt. #6), and Defendant Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley J. Rumbaugh's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #3). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motions, GRANTS Defendant's Motion, and dismisses this case with prejudice.


         A. Factual Background [1]

         Plaintiff King is a “former daily news reporter and escrow attorney who has closed several dozen residential real estate purchase and refinances.” Dkt. # 1-2 at 2. Plaintiff Brown is a journalist and videographer. Id. Plaintiff Nubbe is a “Judicial Oversight Investigator.” Id. Plaintiffs King and Brown “routinely run Courtroom and other video pertaining to the fallout from America's 2008 financial/mortgage crisis.” Id. at 3. On July 19, 2016, Plaintiff Brown wrote to Judicial Assistant Merri Reagan for Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley J. Rumbaugh stating “Hi Merri, I am Wally Brown and I have been contracted by Brenda Duzan to be added to her defense team in the court proceeding for Friday July 22…. Case No. 14-2-12022-8. Unless I hear back from you to the contrary, I will be driving up there to Tacoma to record the hearing.” Dkt. #1-2 at 20-21. Ms. Reagan wrote back the following day stating that the official Court Reporter would make a stenographical record, and that video recordings of the proceedings was prohibited. Id. at 20. On or about July 20, 2016, Plaintiff Brown contacted Plaintiff King regarding a “denial of camera coverage of a Friday, 22 July 2016 hearing pending in case number 14-2-12022-8…” Id. Plaintiff King emailed Ms. Reagan on July 20, 2016, stating that he and Brown requested “camera access to a foreclosure hearing.” Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff King stated that denial of camera access was unconstitutional and that he would sue if he was denied such access. Id. Plaintiff King did not state he was a member of the news media. Plaintiff King sent the superior court a copy of “Rule GR 16 - Courtroom Photography and Recording by the News Media, ” which states in part that video recording by “the news media” is allowed provided that “permission shall have first been expressly granted by the judge, ” and setting forth procedures for the judge to follow in denying camera access. Id. at 4-5.

         Neither Defendant Rumbaugh nor his staff contacted Plaintiff King in response to his communications prior to the July 22, 2016, hearing. It appears from the record that one or more of the Plaintiffs went to the hearing and attempted to hand deliver a copy of a “Notice of Media Appearance” to Judge Rumbaugh. The courtroom staff refused to deliver this Notice and Judge Rumbaugh told Plaintiffs to “get out of here… get out of here now.” Id. at 7. King later hand filed a “Notice of Media Coverage” on August 2, 2016, seeking prospective relief “and for precedential value in other cases before this Honorable Court.” Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         On December 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in King County Superior Court alleging Defendant Judge Rumbaugh violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Washington State Constitution Article I §5, and Washington Court Rule GR 16 based on the above fact pattern. Dkt. # 1-2 at 9. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief, compensatory damages in excess of $25, 000, and punitive damages. Id.

         On January 9, 2017, Defendant removed to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction. Dkt. # 1; 28 U.S.C. §1441(a). On January 17, 2017, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. #3. Later that day, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion to Remand and a separate “Plaintiffs' Rule 41 Voluntary Dismissal of his (sic) Sole Federal Claim of First Amendment Violation.” Dkts. #6 and #7. On March 6, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint. Dkt. #20.


         A. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), a “court should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Courts apply this policy with “extreme liberality.” Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1051 (9th Cir. 2003). Five factors are commonly used to assess the propriety of granting leave to amend: (1) bad faith, (2) undue delay, (3) prejudice to the opposing party, (4) futility of amendment, and (5) whether plaintiff has previously amended the complaint. Allen v. City of Beverly Hills, 911 F.2d 367, 373 (9th Cir. 1990); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). In conducting this five-factor analysis, the court must grant all inferences in favor of allowing amendment. Griggs v. Pace Am. Group, Inc., 170 F.3d 877, 880 (9th Cir. 1999). In addition, the court must be mindful of the fact that, for each of these factors, the party opposing amendment has the burden of showing that amendment is not warranted. DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 187 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Richardson v. United States, 841 F.2d 993, 999 (9th Cir. 1988).

         In making a 12(b)(6) assessment, the court accepts all facts alleged in the complaint as true, and makes all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Baker v. Riverside County Office of Educ., 584 F.3d 821, 824 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). However, the court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 678. This requirement is met when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The complaint need not include detailed allegations, but it must have “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Absent facial plausibility, Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed. Id. at 570.

         Where a complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim, “leave to amend should be granted unless the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency.” Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir. 1986).

         B. Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint

         The Court will begin by addressing Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend, as the Court must look to the pleadings-amended or not-before determining the remaining motions in this matter. Plaintiffs' two-page Motion for Leave to Amend reiterates their GR 16 claim and cites to a Seattle Times newspaper article about Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist. Dkt. #20 at 1-2. Plaintiffs' Motion then states “as leave shall be liberally-granted… and as none of this is Plaintiff's (sic) fault, the Motion must be summarily GRANTED…” Id. at 2. Plaintiffs' Motion contains no further analysis.

         In Response, Defendant argues that this Motion is “made in bad faith, is futile, and prejudicial.” Dkt. #21 at 2. Defendant presents evidence as to bad faith, and significant legal authority. See Dkt. # 21.[2] Defendant argues that amendment should be denied because it would be futile because “[b]oth the original and new allegations fail to overcome the dispositive obstacles of judicial immunity, Plaintiffs' lack of standing, the absence of any claim under federal or state constitutions and state tort law, the missing elements required for declaratory and injunctive relief, and their continued refusal to obtain in personam jurisdiction for federal ...

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