United States District Court, W.D. Washington
FREDRICK and ANNALESA THOMAS; and JO-HANNA READ, as Guardian ad Litem of E.T., a minor, Plaintiffs,
JASON CANNON; BRIAN MARKERT; RYANMICENKO; MICHAEL WILEY; MICHAEL ZARO; CITY OF FIFE; CITY OF LAKEWOOD; and PIERCE COUNTY METRO SWAT TEAM, Defendants. FREDRICK THOMAS and ANNALESA THOMAS, as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Leonard Thomas, and its statutory beneficiaries, Plaintiffs,
BRIAN MARKERT; MICHAEL WILEY; NATHAN VANCE; MICHAEL ZARO; SCOTT GREEN; JEFF RACKLEY; CITY OF FIFE; CITY OF LAKEWOOD; PIERCE COUNTY METRO SWAT TEAM; and JOHN DOES 1 through 10, Defendants.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL
Barbara Jacobs Rothstein U.S. District Court Judge.
early hours of May 24, 2013, a member of the Pierce County
SWAT Team fatally shot Leonard Thomas. At the time Leonard
was holding his four-year-old son E.T. The shooting occurred
after a four hour standoff at the home where Leonard lived
with his parents, Fredrick and Annalesa Thomas. These
consolidated cases involve civil rights and state law claims
by Leonard's Estate (3:15-cv-05346) and by Fred,
Annalesa, and E.T. (3:16-cv-05392). Plaintiffs move for
partial summary judgment on the issue whether Defendant Metro
SWAT Team is a legal entity that can be held liable as a
defendant in this lawsuit. The Court rules that Metro SWAT is
not a suable entity.
Pierce County Metro SWAT Team is a "mutual aid"
emergency response law enforcement team consisting of police
officers from several Pierce County cities. (Doc. No. 40- 1.)
The participating municipalities formed Metro SWAT by
entering into an interlocal agreement
("Agreement"). The Agreement provides, in relevant
19. CONTRACT ADMINISTRATION. The parties do not by this
agreement to [sic] create any separate legal or
administrative entity. The parties do not intend to jointly
own any real or personal property as part of this
undertaking. The Signatory Agencies will cooperatively work
together to further the intent and purpose of this agreement.
The chiefs of police from the Signatory Agencies shall be
responsible for administering the terms of this agreement.
(Id. ¶ 19.) Additionally, the member
"cities agree that liability for the negligent or
tortious actions of the [Metro Pierce SWAT Team will] be
shared equally on an equal shares basis between the
Participating Cities." (Id. ¶ 13.)
SWAT operates under a manual that provides a chain of command
and rules of engagement for the use of force. (Doc. No.
40-2.) A Metro SWAT Oversight Board investigates allegations
of excessive use of force, seeks funding through
participating cities or grant applications, and maintains
authority to remove individual officers from the SWAT team.
(Doc. No. 40-4 at 14, 105-06, 103.) Metro SWAT is empowered
to enter into contracts with third parties. (See
Doc. No. 40-3.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is appropriate 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." Smith v. Clark County
Sch. Dist., 727 F.3d 950, 954 (9th Cir. 2013) (quotation
marks and citation omitted). A party may move for summary
judgment on any claim or defense, or any part of a claim or
defense. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(a). As Plaintiffs' account
of Metro SWAT's manner of operations is uncontested by
Defendants, the disputes presented by Plaintiffs' Motion
are strictly legal in nature.
Rule of Civil Procedure 17(b)(3) provides that an
entity's capacity to be sued is determined "by the
law of the state where the court is located." However,
"a partnership or other unincorporated association with
no such capacity under that state's law may sue or be
sued in its common name to enforce a substantive right
existing under the United States Constitution or laws."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3)(A). Thus, the Court first looks to
whether Washington law provides for suit against Metro SWAT.
Because it does not, the Court next considers whether Metro
SWAT is "a partnership or other unincorporated
association" for purposes of Rule 17(b)(3)(A). It is
Capacity for Suit under Washington Law
civil rules are silent as to a party's capacity for suit.
See Wash. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 17. Instead, courts
must rely on statutory and common law to determine capacity
for suit. The Supreme Court of Washington explained, "In
determining the issue of [an entity's] capacity to be
sued, we must examine the enactment providing for its
establishment." Roth v. Drainage Imp. Dist. No. 5,
of Clark Cty.,64 Wash.2d 586, 588 (1964). Metro SWAT
was formed under the authority of the Washington Interlocal
Cooperation Act ("ICA"), RCW 39.34, which
authorizes local governments to enter into interlocal
agreements, and the Washington Mutual Aid ...