United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
B. LEIGHTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Pam Johnson's
Motion to Amend her complaint. Dkt. #14.
“levy lid” statute limits the rate at which a
taxing district may increase the regular annual property tax
levy amount. RCW 84.55. The limit factor is 101 percent of the
prior year's rate. RCW 84.55.050(2). A taxing district
(like King County) may submit to voters a proposition that
will “lift” the levy lid. RCW 84.55.050(1). The
dollar amount of a levy lid may not be used as the base
amount for computing “subsequent levies, ” unless
the proposition's ballot title “expressly”
states that it will be so used. RCW 84.55.050(1), (4)(c).
also provides a streamlined procedure for anyone to challenge
any ballot title if he claims it is not accurate.
See RCW 29A.36.090. Any challenge must be filed with
the county's auditor within ten days of the date the
ballot title is filed. Id.
2012, the King County Council passed Ordinance No. 17304, a
“levy lid lift” to collect additional property
taxes for nine years, beginning in 2013. The Ordinance stated
that “the [new] 2013 levy amount would become the base
upon which levy increases would be computed for each of the
eight succeeding years.”
1 placed Ordinance No. 17304 before the voters. Its ballot
title explained that “increases in the following eight
years would be subject to the limitations in chapter 84.55
RCW, all as provided in Ordinance No. 17304.” Unlike
the Ordinance itself, Prop. 1's ballot title did not
expressly state that the 2013 levy rate would be used to
calculate levy amounts for nine years.
approved Prop. 1 and thus authorized King County to impose an
additional property tax levy at a rate above the 101% limit
for nine years. King County applied that rate to its overall
rate, and multiplied the new combined rate by the total value
of taxable property to produce 2014's total permissible
levy rate. After nine years, the levy lid will revert to what
it would have been, had voters not “lifted the
lid” in 2012.
2016, End the Prison Industrial Complex (“EPIC”)
sued King County. It claimed Prop. 1 effectively authorized
an increased property tax rate in 2013, but that King
County's collection of increased property taxes in
subsequent years was illegal, because Prop. 1's ballot
title did not expressly state that it would do so.
argued that the ballot title implied that the property tax
rate increase was for only one year. It sought to enjoin King
County from collecting property taxes at the increased rate
in subsequent years. The Pierce County Superior Court held
that the ballot title language sufficiently authorized King
County to levy property taxes in future years based on the
increased base tax rate in the first year. End Prison
Indus. Complex v. King County, 2016 WL 5940467, at *1
Washington Court of Appeals reversed. It held that Prop
1's ballot title language was insufficient under RCW
85.55.050, and Prop. 1's passage did not authorize the
County to use 2013's levy as a base for subsequent years:
“Because EPIC sought to enforce the terms of the ballot
title as written and approved by voters, EPIC's claim is
not a challenge to the ballot's title that must be
brought pre-election.” End Prison Indus. Complex v.
King Cty., 200 Wn.App. 616, 633-34, 402 P.3d 918, 927
(2017) (“EPIC I”). The Court of Appeals
reversed and remanded to the Superior Court for further
with EPIC I, Plaintiff Johnson sued King County in
Pierce County Superior Court in 2017, on behalf of herself
and all persons who paid King County property taxes since
2014, seeking a refund of taxes she claimed King County had
illegally collected. Like EPIC, Johnsonclaimed King
County's property tax collections were illegal under RCW
84.55.010 and .050 because Prop. 1's ballot title was
insufficient. Therefore, she argues, Prop. 1's passage
did not authorize King County to use the dollar amount of the
2013 collections as the base upon which to calculate the levy
limits in future years. She claimed that EPIC I
collaterally estopped King County from re-litigating that
also argued that the state's failure to provide a remedy
for all taxpayers to obtain relief or a refund from
an illegal or erroneous tax was a violation of due process,
though she did not sue the state (or assert that any state
statute was unconstitutional). See Plaintiff's
Complaint at Dkt. #1, Ex. A at 4-14, 30.
County removed the case here based on Johnson's due
process claim. The parties stipulated to a stay while the
Washington Supreme Court reviewed EPIC I, because
Johnson's claims necessarily and explicitly relied on it.
Indeed, Johnson ...