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Rainier Beach Development Company, LLC v. King County

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

August 16, 2017

RAINIER BEACH DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, LLC, a Washington limited liability company; EXCEL HOMES, INC., a Washington corporation; and JAVIER LUNA and DONALD ALLEN, individuals, Plaintiffs,
KING COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Washington, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant King County's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 20). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and GRANTS the motion in part and DENIES it in part for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This section, as is appropriate on summary judgment, presents the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.

         In late 2009, Plaintiff Rainier Beach Development Company, LLC (“RBDC”) purchased property located at South 115th Place in Seattle (“the Property”). (Dkt. No. 26 at 1; Dkt. No. 27 at 1.) The intended project at the Property was five single family homes with associated site development work and construction of a private road and sidewalks. (Dkt. No. 21 at 2.) Non-party Cooper Development started the project in 2004. (Id.) Cooper applied for building permits for the five single family homes and a grading permit, which would authorize construction of the private road, a retaining wall, and sidewalks, as well as restoration of a wetland and stream buffer on one of the lots. (Id.) Cooper obtained building permits in 2005 and 2006, but it encountered financial problems in 2009 and declared bankruptcy. (Id. at 3.)

         Frontier Bank foreclosed on the Property and sold it to RBDC, which became the project applicant. (Id.) Before purchasing the Property, RBDC received assurances from Defendant King County (“the County”) that if RBDC paid certain debts owed by Cooper, it would receive a permit to start work within 90 days. (Dkt. No. 27 at 2.)

         Plaintiff Excel Homes, Inc. and its owners, Plaintiffs Javier Luna and Donald Allen, worked as the contractors on the project. (Dkt. No. 26 at 2.) Their aim was to complete what Cooper had started, including all private roadwork, utilities, and improvements. (Id.) However, according to Plaintiffs, the County has prevented completion of the project by treating Plaintiffs unfairly and discriminatorily. (See Dkt. No. 1-2 at 5.)

         For example, in 2011, Plaintiffs put in an erosion control rockery after obtaining permission from the County to build it in that location. (Dkt. No. 28 at 2.) However, in August 2014, the County issued a set of stop work orders alleging that Plaintiffs did not have permission to build the rockery. (Id.) The stop work orders were not limited to the rockery, but stopped work on the whole site. (Id.) Then, later that year, the County required Plaintiffs to reopen one of the lots and make engineering changes that were not originally required. (Id. at 3.) The County also required Plaintiffs to obtain a new grading permit that would not have been required at the time. (Id.) To this day, Plaintiffs are still prohibited from working on the rockery and have been required to obtain a wetlands biologist to make a report on the area. (Id.) Plaintiffs have appealed the stop work orders, but no decision has yet been issued. (Id.)

         On February 25, 2014, Luna and an RBDC representative met with Fred White, then-project lead for the County. (Dkt. No. 25 at 1.) White shared troubling information with them, including that White felt the County intentionally thwarted the project; former County employee John Kane shared information about Luna's background in an effort to discredit Luna; the County added unnecessary permit conditions to create extra work and cost for Plaintiffs; White felt Excel Homes had in fact done excellent work and exceeded code requirements; and the County had “bizarrely” lost Plaintiffs' project file multiple times. (Dkt. No. 26 at 3-4.)

         On July 16, 2014, Luna submitted a claim for damages to the County. (Dkt. No. 26 at 2.) The claim alleged that the County made Plaintiffs redo Cooper's work and frequently changed the requirements for obtaining permits. (Id. at 16.) According to the claim, the County “blocked [Plaintiffs] at every turn. For example, as an issue would arise, [Plaintiffs] would suggest an approach, the [County] would require a different approach, [Plaintiffs] would do the work, and then (after a huge expenditure of time and money) the [County] would ultimately say that [Plaintiffs'] original approach was the correct one.” (Id.) The claim listed a number of examples, including issues with the project's retaining wall, water district, service road, turnaround, and sidewalk. (Id. at 16-17.) Less than three weeks later, the stop work orders issued. (Id. at 6.)

         On May 9, 2016, Plaintiffs sued the County, alleging: (1) intentional interference with business relations; (2) negligence; (3) violations of Washington Revised Code chapter 64.40; (4) violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (5) breach of implied contract and promissory estoppel; (6) negligent misrepresentation; and (7) unlawful discrimination. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 7-10.) Their complaint asserts that, “[r]ather than honor its commitment and grant RBDC a grading permit within 90 days, [the] County [has] engaged in a consistent pattern of capricious, improper, unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory actions against” Plaintiffs. (Id. at 5.)

         The County now moves for summary judgment, arguing that it granted Plaintiffs their grading permit in August 2012 and thus all claims are time-barred. (Dkt. No. 20 at 1-2.)


         A. Summary ...

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