United States District Court, W.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Dkt.
B. LEIGHTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on the United States' Motion
for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #17]. Plaintiff Pierce County
foreclosed on Defendant Guy Flake's Lake Tapps,
Washington home, and interplead the remaining proceeds, $161,
904, into this Court. The case involves competing claims to
the interplead funds by two of the defendants, the United
States and Flake's wife, Jennifer. Defendant Flake has not
appeared, and Pierce County has been dismissed.
United States claims it is entitled to the funds as a matter
of law, in partial satisfaction of Flake's federal tax
obligations for the 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2004 tax years. The
government filed tax liens on Flake's home for those
years in 2010 and 2011.
claims that she married Flake and obtained a community
property interest in the home in 2005, before the liens were
filed. On July 28, 2014 (after Pierce County commenced
foreclosure) Flake quitclaimed his interest to himself and
Jennifer, and recorded the deed. Indeed, she claims her
interest may have started even earlier, relying on a letter
Flake sent her in December 2003:
PUT SO MUCH TIME AND MONEY INTO OUR HOMES AND YET YOU HAVE
NOTHING TO SUPPORT OUR DEAL THAT THIS HOUSE ARE YOURS ALSO
ONE WE'RE MARRRIED ALL MY PROPERTIES AND POSSESSIONS ARE
YOURS BUT UNTILL THAT HAPPENS I AM OFFICIALLY STATING IN
WRITING THAT THE PROPERTIES AT 5514 185TH AVEGE AND 3320 DEER
ISLAND DR.BOTH IN SUMNER WA BELONG TO BOTH OF US.
[Dkt. #19-1 at 6]. She claims that questions of fact preclude
judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact
exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable
inferences in that party's favor. Anderson Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986); Bagdadi v.
Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine
issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient
evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the
nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The
inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” Id. At 251-52. The moving party bears
the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which
supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party must
then show that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If the nonmoving party
fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of
material fact, “the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex, 477
U.S. at 323-24.
United States argues that its tax liens are valid, and that
they pre-date Jennifer's interest in the property; her
interest, it claims, did not arise until the quit claim deed
was recorded. It argues that neither the letter nor the fact
of marriage made the home community property, as a matter of
In Washington State, the character of property as separate or
community property is determined at the date of acquisition
of the property. In re Estate of Borghi, 167 Wash.2d
480, 484, 219 P.3d 932, 935 (2009), as corrected
(Mar. 3, 2010). Once the separate character of property is
established, a presumption arises that it remained separate
property in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to
show an intent to transmute the property from separate to
community property. Id., at 484 & n. 4; Guye
v. Guye, 63 Wash. 340, 352, 115 P. 731, 735 (1911).
#20 at 3]. In order to “transmutate” separate
property to community property, an acknowledged writing
sufficient to transfer an interest in real estate (a deed) is
required. See RCW §64.04.010, .020. It argues
that because the letter was not acknowledged in accordance
with this scheme-and because the marriage alone does not
alter the character of the property- the home remained
separate property until Flake legally and effectively
transferred an interest in it in 2014, much too late to give
her an interest superior to the tax liens. It also
argues that the letter does not satisfy the
requirements of a community property agreement (RCW
§226.16.120) because Jennifer did not sign it, and it
was not witnessed, acknowledged, or certified as a real
property deed. It claims the letter did not convey any
interest, and did not convert the home from separate property
to community property as a matter of law.
argues there are questions of fact about when her
interest in the property arose. She claims it presumptively
arose when she was married, in February 2005, and that the
letter demonstrates that that was the parties' intent.
She concedes that the letter was not acknowledged, but argues
that she and Flake both intended and expected that the
property was marital or community property from the date of
the marriage. She claims to “understand” that the
rule in Washington is that property owned by the couple is
marital property, and that one claiming that the property is
instead separate property must “prove” that fact
to “change the law's default assumption.” But
the law's “default assumption” is that
separate property remains separate unless and until that
presumption is overcome, in the ways the government
articulates in its filings, and which are discussed above.
are not questions of fact about the critical events in this
case, or about their legal effect. Whatever Flake and
Jennifer intended or expected, they did not adequately
transmute Flake's separate property interest in the home
to a community property interest until 2014. By that time,
the liens had attached, and they are superior to
Jennifer's interest in the property as a matter of law.
United States' Motion is GRANTED and it is entitled to
the interplead proceeds as a matter of law. The Clerk shall
disburse the interplead funds from the Court's registry
in the following manner, and close the case:
made payable to “United States Department of Justice,
” in the amount of $161, 904, with a notation for
“Flake, Case No. ...