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Little Butte Property Owners Water Association v. Bradley

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 26, 2018

LITTLE BUTTE PROPERTY OWNERS WATER ASSOCIATION, a Washington nonprofit corporation, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant,
KEN B. BRADLEY, an individual; Defendant/Counterclaimant, KEN B. BRADLEY, Third Party Plaintiff,


          ROSANNA MALOUF PETERSON United States District Judge

         BEFORE THE COURT are the following motions: (1) a motion to partially dismiss, for failure to state a claim, Defendant and Third Party Plaintiff Ken Bradley's claims based on the Washington State Constitution, brought by Third Party Defendants Chelan County, et al. (the “Chelan County Defendants”), ECF No. 15; (2) a motion to dismiss Defendant and Counterclaimant Ken Bradley's counterclaims, by Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant Little Butte Property Water Association (“Little Butte”), ECF No. 14; (3) a motion for preliminary injunction by Defendant and Counterclaimant Mr. Bradley, ECF No. 25; and (4) a motion to exclude expert witness testimony, by Plaintiff Little Butte, ECF No. 16. The Court heard Little Butte's motion to dismiss and Mr. Bradley's motion for a preliminary injunction with oral argument, and the remaining motions without oral argument.

         Having reviewed the parties' filings, heard argument, and determined the relevant law, the Court resolves the motions as follows.


         This is a procedurally complex matter, in which the parties' roles are multi-faceted: Little Butte is Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant; Mr. Bradley is Defendant, Counterclaimant against Little Butte, and Third Party Plaintiff against the Chelan County Defendants; and the Chelan County Defendants are Third Party Defendants, brought into the case by Mr. Bradley's cross-claims. ECF Nos. 1-1, 7, and 8. For the sake of clarity, the Court primarily will refer to the parties by their names.

         Without prematurely engaging in formal fact-finding, the Court merely summarizes the various factual disputes between the parties and the key events as they appear to the Court at this stage.

         Mr. Bradley owns property in or near Chelan, Washington. Although not a member of Little Butte, he is entitled to receive water, subject to payment of assessments, pursuant to a judgment entered in 1982 involving prior owners of the property. However, Mr. Bradley maintains that he “did not have to pay maintenance and upkeep fees under his grandfathered status to the Water Association, ” which Little Butte denies. ECF Nos. 7 at 7; 8 at 6.

         The dispute among the parties originates with two events, which Mr. Bradley maintains are materially related, and Little Butte maintains are not. First, Little Butte notified Defendant of an impending water line replacement in September 2013. Little Butte claimed a right of entry onto Mr. Bradley's property to maintain or repair the pipeline running underneath a portion of the lot. Around October 2013, Mr. Bradley and Little Butte engaged in a conflict over whether Little Butte and its contractor could access the property. Mr. Bradley claims that Little Butte would not provide Mr. Bradley with proof of insurance to demonstrate that any damage done to his property would be corrected. Little Butte claims that Mr. Bradley blocked access to the easement across his property.

         By the end of October 2013, Little Butte filed a lawsuit against Mr. Bradley in Chelan County Superior Court for temporary and permanent injunctive relief to enjoin Mr. Bradley from interfering with Little Butte's access to the water line according to the easement and for damages for the delay in accessing it. The Chelan County Superior Court granted the temporary injunction, and Little Butte's contractor began work on the water line under Mr. Bradley's property. Little Butte alleges that Mr. Bradley again inhibited access to the property, causing Little Butte to incur costs for the delay. Little Butte obtained a contempt order, with the court holding Mr. Bradley in contempt for failing to adhere to the preliminary injunction and awarding Little Butte $2000 in attorney's fees and costs.

         Little Butte completed the work on Mr. Bradley's property. Mr. Bradley claims that the excavation that Little Butte's contractor performed on the property to replace the water line caused invasive weed growth that Mr. Bradley did not notice until May 2014, and that Little Butte “did as much as $300, 000 in damage to the landscape.” ECF No. 7 at 15.

         In August 2014, the Chelan County Superior Court entered judgment in favor of Little Butte. In September 2014, Little Butte secured a civil bench warrant for Mr. Bradley. Mr. Bradley alleges that the Chelan County Defendants' service of the civil bench warrant in October 2014, at the initiative of Little Butte, triggered Mr. Bradley's post-traumatic stress disorder, caused physical injuries, and subjected Mr. Bradley to wrongful arrest and detention. These events underlie Mr. Bradley's pending 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for violations of his civil rights and tort claim for infliction of emotional distress.

         Mr. Bradley alleges that in January 2017, the August 2014 judgment in favor of Little Butte was vacated for insufficient personal service of the complaint on Mr. Bradley.[1] The Chelan County Defendants removed the Chelan County Superior Court action to this Court, based on federal question jurisdiction, on May 12, 2017. ECF No. 1.

         The second event, which Mr. Bradley posits is materially related to the above events, but Little Butte disagrees, is that Little Butte shut off water service to Mr. Bradley's property in October 2014 on the basis that he had not paid the required fees and assessments for domestic water rates and for maintenance of the water line. Mr. Bradley asserted at oral argument that Little Butte's refusal to supply water to his property is related to the damage done to his property outside the boundaries of his easement. Little Butte responded that the termination of water service to Mr. Bradley's property is not related to either Little Butte's claims or Mr. Bradley's counterclaims in this action. ECF No. 28 at 4-5.

         Little Butte amended its complaint in January 2017, seeking to dissolve the October 24, 2013 temporary restraining order and replace it with a permanent injunction against Mr. Bradley from interfering with Little Butte's right of access over the easement. ECF No. 1-1 at 19-24. Little Butte also seeks a judgment for the state court's November 26, 2013 award of $2000 in attorney fees and costs and $23, 868 in delay damages from Mr. Bradley for inhibiting Little Butte's work within the organization's alleged easement across his property in 2013. Id.

         Mr. Bradley raises a number of affirmative defenses to Little Butte's claims and states a number of counter- and cross-claims for violations of his Federal constitutional rights, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Washington State constitutional rights.


         Chelan County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Claim under the Washington State Constitution

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Mr. Bradley does not oppose the Chelan County Defendants' motion to dismiss Mr. Bradley's Washington State constitutional claim against them. ECF No. 21. Mr. Bradley further concedes that his claim against Little Butte for a civil rights violation under the Washington State Constitution also may be dismissed, subject to the reservation that any of his allegations related to his state constitutional claims should not be stricken “in so much as they support the remaining tort claims” in his Amended Answer. ECF No. 21 at 2; see also ECF No. 7 (Amended Answer). Accordingly, the Chelan County Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, and Mr. Bradley's cross-claim against the Chelan County Defendants and counterclaim against Little Butte for violation of Article 1, Section 7, of the Washington State Constitution are dismissed.

         Little Butte's Motion to Dismiss Mr. Bradley's Counterclaims

         Little Butte moves to dismiss the four counterclaims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(c), principally on the basis that they are time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. Alternatively, Little Butte seeks dismissal of Mr. Bradley's fourth counterclaim, alleging trespass onto his property, on the basis that he fails to plead that he suffered “actual and substantial” damages within the three years before filing of the counterclaim. Also, Little Butte seeks to dismiss Mr. Bradley's counterclaims on the basis that they lack “plausibility” because “the court from which Little Butte sought and obtained relief was acting under color of jurisdiction.” ECF No. 14 at 7.

         In a late-filed response, [2] Mr. Bradley argues that the statute of limitations for his counterclaims is tolled by Little Butte's initial filing of their complaint in October 2013 and that, even if the limitations period was not tolled, the three-year statute of limitations on his claims had not run by February 10, 2017, because Mr. Bradley had no knowledge of the harm for the invasive weed problem until spring 2014 and for his injuries stemming from service of the civil warrant until October 2014. Mr. Bradley further argues that his counterclaim for trespass involved an ongoing and continuing invasion of his property interests that “did not devolve to [sic] serious right to privacy issues until Mr. Bradley was removed from his home on October 29, 2014.” ECF No. 18 at 7.

         A court deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(c) applies the same standard that is applied to motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(b)(6). Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). A court must assume the allegations in the challenged pleadings, here Defendant's Amended Answer, are true, and must construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009). Judgment on the pleadings is “properly granted when, taking all the allegations in the pleadings as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Nelson v. City of Irvine, 143 F.3d 1196, 1200 (9th Cir. 1998). Leave to amend the deficient pleading is appropriate unless the deficiency cannot be cured by the allegation of other facts. Knappenberger v. City of Phoenix, 566 F.3d 936, 942 (9th Cir. 2009).

         Federal courts apply state statutes of limitations for personal injury actions in evaluating claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007); Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co., 541 U.S. 369, (2004); Alameda Books, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 631 F.3d 1031, 1041 (9th Cir. 2011). The statute of limitations for personal injury actions in Washington is three years. Revised Code of Washington (“RCW”) 4.16.080. Claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and for destruction of property, trespass, and condemnation, also are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. Id.; see Cox v. Oasis Physical Therapy, PLLC, 153 Wn.App. 176, 190 (Wash. App. Div. 3, 2009).

         Although a federal court looks to state law for the length of the limitations period, federal law governs when the claim accrues. Lukovsky v. City and Cty. of San Francisco, 535 F.3d 1044, 1048 (9th Cir. 2008). “Accrual is the date on which the statute of limitations begins to run; under federal law, a claim accrues ‘when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action.'” Id. (quoting Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Med., 363 F.3d 916, 926 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation omitted)).

         A court should grant a motion to dismiss based on the expiration of the statute of limitations only if it is apparent on the face of the complaint that the limitations period has run. Conerly v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 623 F.2d 117, 119 (9th Cir. 1980). Here, the Court cannot determine on the face of Mr. Bradley's counterclaims that the statute of limitations had run by February 10, 2017, when Mr. Bradley filed his initial answer and counterclaims and cross-claims. See ECF No. 1-1 at 33. Mr. Bradley's section 1983 counterclaims and cross-claims arise out of events and alleged injuries in October 2014. Mr. Bradley's claims related to damage to his property, based on the face of the complaint, could potentially have accrued within the limitations period. Therefore, dismissal of Mr. Bradley's counterclaims based on the expiration of the statute of limitations is not supported at this juncture. See Conerly, 623 F.2d at 119; see also Varrasso v. Barksdale, No. 13-cv-1982-BAS-JLB, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46105, at *19-20 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 5, 2016). Nor does the Court find it appropriate ...

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