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Lighthouse Resources Inc. v. Inslee

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

April 11, 2019

LIGHTHOUSE RESOURCES INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY Intervenor-Plaintiff, and
v.
JAY INSLEE, et al., Defendants, and WASHINGTON ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL, et al., Intervenor-Defendants.

          ORDER STAYING CASE

          ROBERT J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the parties' various motions (Dkt. 211, 212, 227, and 230, and 232). The Court has considered pleadings filed regarding the motions, oral argument on March 26, 2019, additional briefing requested on issue preclusion and Pullman abstention, and the remaining record.

         The Court is concerned over pre-judging issues in this case, and the fact that it sees the case very differently than the parties because of issue preclusion discussed below. Time considerations are also a concern; trial is scheduled for May 13, 2019. Also, the Court is well aware of its duty to timely resolve disputes that are properly before it.

         The Court has spent a good deal of time and effort considering and researching the issues. This is how it looks to the Court at this time:

         Issue Preclusion

         In order to prevail on their commerce clause claims, the Plaintiffs and Intervenor-Plaintiff[1] assert that they must show:

(1) [W]hether the Defendants intended to or in fact discriminated against foreign or interstate commerce; (2) whether the Defendants intended to or in fact burdened foreign or interstate commerce; (3) the extent of any such burdens or the countervailing actual or alleged benefits of the state's actions; and (4) whether the Defendants intruded into an area in which the United States, and not the states, are permitted to act under the U.S. Constitution.

Dkt. 314, at 16. None of these claims were definitively decided in the State Pollution Control Hearings Board proceeding.

         In regard to the evidence available at a trial on commerce clause issues only, the relevance of the State Pollution Control Hearings Board's decisions as an issue preclusion question, not a claim preclusion question, becomes apparent.

         The April 1, 2019 order (Dkt. 309) provides the standard on issue preclusion, but it bears repeating here. Under the Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, federal courts give “the same preclusive effect to a state-court judgment as another court of that state would give.” The federal common law rules of preclusion apply to “state administrative adjudications of legal as well as factual issues, even if unreviewed, so long as the state proceeding satisfies the requirements of fairness outlined in United States v. Utah Construction & Mining, 384 U.S. 394, 422 (1966).” Miller v. County of Santa Cruz, 39 F.3d 1030, 1032-1033 (9th Cir. 1994). The Utah Construction test requires: (1) that the administrative agency act in a judicial capacity, (2) that the agency resolve disputed issues of fact and law properly before it, and (3) that the parties have an adequate opportunity to litigate. Id., at 1033. Washington courts also recognize that decisions of administrative bodies may have preclusive effect. Reninger v. Dept. of Corrections, 134 Wash.2d 437, 449 (1998). The Washington test, like the Utah Construction test, considers whether the administrative body was acting within its jurisdiction when it made factual and legal determinations, it examines procedural differences between Washington courts and the administrative body, and adds policy considerations. Id.

         As stated in the April 1, 2019, order (Dkt. 309), the test under both Utah Construction and Washington law are met. That reasoning is adopted here. The findings and decisions of the Pollution Control Hearings Board affirming Defendant Bellon's denial of the § 401 permit is entitled to preclusive effect.

         Analysis of the same issue through the rules of collateral estoppel under Washington law is also appropriate. “Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case.” Hydranautics v. FilmTec Corp., 204 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2000). Washington courts apply collateral estoppel to “(1) identical issues; (2) a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom the plea is asserted must have been a party to or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and (4) application of the doctrine must not work an injustice on the party against whom the doctrine is to be applied.” Sprague v. Spokane Valley Fire Dep't, 189 Wn.2d 858, 899 (2018).

         The Pollution Control Hearings Board's decisions affirming Defendant Bellon's denial of the § 401 permit is also entitled to preclusive effect under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The issues are identical - the commerce clause constitutional claims raised here involve the propriety of the grounds for Bellon's denial on some of the same issues the board reviewed. The decision was a final judgment on the merits and Lighthouse and BNSF were parties or in privity with parties.

         Further, as to the fourth element, the “injustice element, ” it “is rooted in procedural unfairness. Washington courts look to whether the parties to the earlier proceeding received a full and fair hearing on the issue in question.” Schibel v. Eymann, 189 Wn.2d 93, 102 (2017). ...


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