CENTRAL PUGET SOUND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a regional transit authority, dba SOUND TRANSIT, Respondent,
WR-SRI 120TH NORTH LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; WR-SRI 120TH LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; SAFEWAY, INC., a Delaware corporation; NORTHWESTERN IMPROVEMENT COMPANY, a Delaware corporation; CENTURYLINK, INC., a Louisiana corporation fka PACIFIC NORTHWEST BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, a Washington corporation; PUGET SOUND ENERGY, INC., a Washington corporation; PPF AMILI 121ST AVENUE NE, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Respondents, CITY OF SEATTLE, Appellant, SEATTLE CITY LIGHT, a Washington municipal corporation; CITY OF BELLEVUE, a Washington municipal corporation; U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION; PUGET SOUND ENERGY, INC., a Washington corporation; AF OPERATIONS, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; AMAZON.COM INC., a Delaware corporation; ORCA BAY SEAFOODS, INC., a Washington corporation; KING COUNTY, a Washington municipal corporation; and ALL UNKNOWN OWNERS and UNKNOWN TENANTS, Respondents. CENTRAL PUGET SOUND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a regional transit authority, dba SOUND TRANSIT, Respondent,
SAFEWAY INC., a Delaware corporation, King County and All Unknown Owners and Unknown Tenants, Other Parties, CITY OF SEATTLE, Appellant. CENTRAL PUGET SOUND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a regional transit authority, dba SOUND TRANSIT, Respondent,
STERNOFF L.P., a Washington limited partnership; JPMORGAN CHASE BANK, N.A., W. STERNOFF LLC, a Washington limited liability company dba BODYGLIDE; KING COUNTY, a Washington municipal corporation; and ALL UNKNOWN OWNERS and UNKNOWN TENANTS, Other Parties, and CITY OF SEATTLE, Appellant. CENTRAL PUGET SOUND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a regional transit authority, dba SOUND TRANSIT, Respondent,
ANN SEENA JACOBSEN, who also appears of record as ANN SEENA VERACRUZ, individually and as trustee for THE ANN SEENA JACOBSEN LIVING TRUST DATED APRIL 4, 2002; ASSURITY LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a Nebraska company f/k/a WOODMEN ACCIDENT AND LIFE COMPANY; SAFEWAY, INC., a Delaware corporation; CENTURYLINK, INC., a Louisiana corporation; PUGET SOUND ENERGY, INC., a Washington corporation, Respondents, CITY OF SEATTLE, Appellant, SEATTLE CITY LIGHT, a Washington municipal corporation; CITY OF BELLEVUE, a Washington municipal corporation; KING COUNTY, a Washington municipal corporation; and ALL UNKNOWN OWNERS and UNKNOWN TENANTS, Respondents.
four consolidated cases present the same question: May
Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound
Transit) condemn the city of Seattle's electrical
transmission line easements located in the city of Bellevue
to extend Sound Transit's regional light rail system? For
the following reasons, we affirm the trial courts in part and
remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
We hold that Sound Transit has statutory authority to condemn
Seattle's easements and that the condemnation meets
public use and necessity requirements. However, we remand the
cases to the trial court for consideration of the prior
public use doctrine and a finding on whether the two public
uses are compatible.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Transit seeks to build a light rail line perpendicular to
124th Avenue NE in Bellevue as part of its East Link
Extension. To do so, it has condemned several properties
located along 124th Avenue NE.
properties at issue here are owned by Seattle and consist of
electrical transmission line easements. Seattle acquired
these easements 86 years ago specifically for the purpose of
building electrical transmission lines. Seattle's
easements run along the east and west sides of 124th Avenue
NE, parallel to the road, which runs north to south. Two of
the four cases, WR-SRL and Safeway,
involve property on the west side of the
road, where Seattle operates high-voltage 230-kilovolt
transmission lines. The other two cases,
Jacobsen and Sternoff,  involve property
on the east side of the road, where Seattle does not
currently operate any transmission lines.
high-voltage 230-kilovolt transmission lines on the west side
of 124th Avenue NE are part of a larger electrical
transmission line corridor running 100 miles from electricity
generating facilities on the Skagit River to an electrical
substation in Maple Valley. This corridor is also part of a
larger, regional electrical transmission line system that
spans the West Coast.
does not currently operate or have definitive plans to build
an electrical transmission line on the east side of 124th
Avenue NE. But Seattle contends that the land will very
likely be used to build a transmission line soon because of
the growing demand for electrical transmission line capacity
in the region and the scarcity of available corridors to
locate such lines.
parties dispute whether the condemnation will interfere with
the existing electrical transmission lines or render the
remaining easements unusable. Seattle claims that losing any
of its west-side easements in the WR-SRI or
Safeway cases would effectively render the
transmission lines and the corridor useless. Specifically,
Seattle argues that it would be unable to maintain mandatory
clearances for its transmission lines because Sound Transit
has condemned Seattle's aerial easement rights.
contrast, Sound Transit maintains that its light rail project
will not preclude Seattle's future use of the easements.
Specifically, Sound Transit alleges that Seattle would be
able to use a particular design for transmission towers that
would comply with necessary clearances and conform to the new
spatial limitations. Seattle does not currently use this
model for its transmission towers and strongly disagrees that
it is a feasible solution.
Sound Transit resolved to acquire the properties for its East
Link Extension project, it collaborated with Bellevue
regarding the final project alignment, design, and
construction process. To that end, Sound Transit and Bellevue
executed a memorandum of understanding and related
agreements. Sound Transit agreed to accommodate
Bellevue's Bel-Red transportation improvement plan, which
includes widening 124th Avenue NE. To do so, Sound Transit
agreed to transfer much of the condemned property to
contested Sound Transit's condemnations by filing suit.
The four trial courts ruled in favor of Sound Transit. In
each case, the trial court held that Sound Transit had
statutory authority to condemn Seattle's electrical
transmission line easements and that the condemnations met
public use and necessity requirements.
WR-SRI, Safeway, and Sternoff, the trial
courts entered public use and necessity (PU&N) judgments,
finding that Sound Transit had statutory authority to condemn
the properties for its East Link Extension project.
Additionally, the trial courts found that the East Link
Extension project was a public use and that the public
interest required the building of a light rail extension.
Although Seattle submitted expert testimony that Sound
Transit's condemnation was incompatible with the
continued operation of the transmission lines, the trial
courts failed to address the prior public use doctrine or the
compatibility of the two agencies' public uses of the
land. In Safeway, Seattle filed a motion for
reconsideration that the public uses were incompatible, but
the court denied it without explanation.
Jacobsen, the trial court also entered a PU&N
judgment, finding that Sound Transit had statutory authority
to condemn public property for the East Link Extension.
However, unlike the preceding cases, the court addressed the
prior public use doctrine. It found that Seattle was not
currently using the easements it holds on the property and
that Sound Transit's proposed use of the condemned
property would not destroy Seattle's future ability to
use its remaining interests in the property for an electrical
transmission system. The parties presented competing
declarations about whether the uses would be compatible. The
court found that the uses would be compatible with one
appealed all four of these cases, and the parties requested
that they be consolidated. We granted review and consolidated
the four cases to be determined at the same time. At the time
we accepted review, a fifth case based on the same issues was
pending before the trial court. Seattle filed a notice of
direct appeal to this court in that case. We granted review
of that fifth case and stayed it pending this decision.
review matters of statutory interpretation de novo. State
v. Armendariz, 160 Wn.2d 106, 110, 156 P.3d 201 (2007).
affirm the trial courts in part and remand for a
determination of whether Seattle's and Sound
Transit's uses are compatible with one another. First, we
hold that Sound Transit has statutory authority to condemn
property owned by another political subdivision. Second, we
hold that Sound Transit's condemnation satisfies PU&N
requirements. Finally, we remand the cases for the trial
courts to consider the prior public use doctrine and make
factual determinations about whether the uses are compatible
with one another.
Statutory Authority To Condemn Seattle's Easements
following reasons, we hold that Sound Transit has authority
to condemn property owned by another political subdivision,
including Seattle's electrical transmission line
Principles of Statutory Interpretation
State can condemn property for public use. Const, art. I,
§ 16. The State may also delegate this authority to its
political subdivisions, such as cities or counties. Pub.
Util. Dist. No. 1 of Okanogan County v. State, 182 Wn.2d
519, 534, 342 P.3d 308 (2015) (Okanogan County PUD);
A political subdivision's authority to condemn property
extends "only so far as statutorily authorized."
Id. Therefore, the scope of the eminent domain
authority of a governmental unit is a matter of statutory
first priority in statutory interpretation is to
"ascertain and carry out the Legislature's
intent." Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell &
Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 9-10, 43 P.3d 4 (2002). We
first examine the plain language of the statute "as
'[t]he surest indication of legislative
intent.'" State v. Larson, 184 Wn.2d 843,
848, 365 P.3d 740 (2015) (alteration in original) (quoting
State v. Ervin, 169 Wn.2d 815, 820, 239 P.3d 354
(2010)). To interpret a statute's plain language, we
examine the text of the statute, "as well as 'the
context of the statute in which that provision is found,
related provisions, and the statutory scheme as a
whole.'" Id. (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Ervin, 169 Wn.2d at 820); see
also Campbell & Gwinn, 146 Wn.2d at 11 (stating that
"meaning is discerned from all that the Legislature has
said in the statute and related statutes which disclose
legislative intent about the provision in question"). We
may not interpret a statute in a way that renders a portion
"'meaningless or superfluous.'" State
v. K.L.B., 180 Wn.2d 735, 742, 328 P.3d 886 (2014)
(quoting Jongeward v. BNSF Ry. Co., 174 Wn.2d 586,
601, 278 P.3d 157 (2012)). Nor may we interpret a statute in
a manner that leads to an absurd result. Estate of Bunch
v. McGraw Residential Ctr., 174 Wn.2d 425, 433, 275 P.3d
addition to these general principles of statutory
interpretation,  there are specific rules that guide our
interpretation of eminent domain statutes. First, statutes
delegating the power of eminent domain to a political
subdivision must be strictly construed. State ex rel.
Devonshire v. Superior Court, 70 Wn.2d 630, 633, 424
P.2d 913 (1967). Consequently, authority to condemn public
property "must be given in express terms or by necessary
implication." King County v. City of Seattle,
68 Wn.2d 688, 690, 414 P.2d 1016 (1966).
while we require grants of authority to condemn public
property to be express or necessarily implied, we may not
construe an eminent domain statute so strictly as to defeat
the legislature's intent to grant condemnation power.
City of Tacoma v. Welcker, 65 Wn.2d 677, 683, 399
P.2d 330 (1965). Therefore, when interpreting eminent
domain statutes, we must strike an appropriate balance
between strictly construing authority to condemn property and
ensuring that our interpretation does not defeat the
legislative purpose to grant condemnation authority.
Express and Implied Authority To Condemn Property Owned by
Other Subdivisions of the State
exercise the power of eminent domain against a subdivision of
the State, that power must be "express or necessarily
implied." King County, 68 Wn.2d at 692. This
test comes from the early case of Seattle & Montana
Railway Co. v. State, 7 Wash. 150, 151, 34 P. 551
(1893). Here, the authority for Sound Transit to condemn
Seattle's electrical transmission easements is express
or, at the least, necessarily implied.
interpret the scope of Sound Transit's condemnation
authority, we must first examine the actual statutory
language. See Dot Foods, Inc. v. Dep't of
Revenue, 166 Wn.2d 912, 919, 215 P.3d 185 (2009)
("Where statutory language is plain and unambiguous, we
ascertain the meaning of the statute solely from its
language."). The legislature granted Sound Transit
express power to condemn all property necessary to build a
light rail system:
An authority shall have the following powers in
addition to the general powers granted by this chapter:
(2) To acquire by purchase, condemnation,  gift, or
grant . . . all lands, rights-of-way, property,
equipment, and accessories necessary for such high capacity
RCW 81.112.080 (emphasis added). The use of the terms
"all lands, rights-of-way, property" is a broad
grant of power, which includes public property owned by
political subdivisions of the State. But Sound Transit's
authority to condemn public property is not limitless. While
there may be no definitional limit to its authority to
condemn "all. . . property," RCW 81.112.080(2),
Sound Transit is still subject to other statutory
limitations, as well as applicable common law doctrines.
example of limitations on Sound Transit, RCW 81.112.080(2)
prohibits it from condemning existing public transportation
facilities or properties without the consent of the
condemnee. Sound Transit's authority is also restricted
by the prior public use doctrine, which prohibits public
entities from condemning property that is already being put
to a public use. Okanogan County PUD, 182 Wn.2d at
538-39. As a result, while Sound Transit has authority to
condemn public property, that authority cannot extend to
existing public transportation facilities or land that is
already being put to a public use.
Necessarily Implied Authority
addition to an express grant of authority, the same statute,
RCW 81.112.080(2), gives Sound Transit the implied power to
condemn properties owned by other subdivisions of the State.
After giving Sound Transit the power to condemn all lands,
rights-of-way, and property, the statute continues:
Public transportation facilities and properties which are
owned by any city, county, county transportation authority,
public transportation benefit area, or metropolitan municipal
corporation may be acquired or used by an authority only with
the consent of the agency owning such facilities. Such
agencies are hereby authorized to convey or lease such
facilities to an authority or to contract for ...