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Du Ju v. Lacombe

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

October 18, 2019

FRANCES DU JU, Plaintiff,
MAURICE LACOMBE and AIRBNB, Inc, Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Airbnb, Inc's (“Airbnb”) motion to confirm arbitration award and enter judgment, Dkt. 77, Plaintiff Francis Du Ju's (“Ju”) motion to vacate arbitration award, Dkt. 79, Defendant Maurice Lacombe's motion to dismiss, Dkt. 88, and Ju and Airbnb's cross motions for default, Dkts. 90, 91. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the remainder of the file and hereby rules as stated below.


         A. The Parties & the State Proceedings

         On April 20, 2018, Ju filed a complaint asserting numerous causes of action against Defendants the State of Washington and John/Jane Doe Employees of the Court of Appeals, Division II (“COA”), Lacombe, and Airbnb. Dkt. 1. Ju's claims arise from a landlord-tenant dispute and subsequent judicial actions involving that dispute. Id.

         In short, Ju rented a room from Lacombe in Vancouver, Washington through Airbnb's rental platform. Dkt. 1. During Ju's stay she and Lacombe disagreed about various issues typical of a landlord-tenant relationship, such as rent payment and amenity availability, and somewhat atypical issues, such as Lacombe's alleged patronization of sex workers. Id. Ju's occupancy of Lacombe's premises continued for months, and he ultimately obtained a judgment evicting her through an unlawful detainer action filed in Clark County Superior Court for the State of Washington. Id. Ju appealed the judgment to the COA, where she raised additional claims relating to an alleged docketing conspiracy perpetrated by Lacombe and court clerk employees. See Lacombe v. Ju, 200 Wn.App. 1028 (2017) (unpublished). The COA affirmed. Id. Ju then commenced her suit here.

         B. Procedural History

         On December 5, 2018, the Court issued an order granting a motion to dismiss based on judicial and sovereign immunity and lack of subject-matter jurisdiction brought by the State and the John/Jane Doe court employees (collectively referenced in prior orders and hereinafter as the “State Defendants”). Dkt. 54. The Court concluded that any amendment of Ju's claims against the State Defendants would be futile because she attempted a de facto appeal prohibited by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Id. The Court dismissed the claims against the State Defendants with prejudice. Id. at 13. On June 28, 2019, the Court entered judgment in favor of the State Defendants. Dkt. 76.

         1. Arbitration

         The Court's December 5, 2018 Order also granted a motion to compel arbitration brought by Airbnb. Id. at 13-14. The Court concluded that a valid arbitration agreement existed between Ju and Airbnb and that the agreement applied to Ju's claims. Id. The Court stayed litigation between Ju and Airbnb until arbitration was “completed.” Id. at 14.

         On July 17, 2019, Airbnb filed the instant motion to confirm the arbitration award and enter judgment dismissing all claims with prejudice. Dkt. 77. Airbnb describes the arbitration proceedings as follows:

Shortly after Airbnb filed its Motion to Compel Arbitration, Ms. Du Ju settled all claims with Airbnb. Nonetheless, Ms. Du Ju still commenced arbitration proceedings with the American Arbitration Association on February 22, 2019. In those proceedings, Airbnb filed a dispositive motion based, in part, on the parties' settlement.
The Arbitrator, having considered the parties' fully briefed arguments, granted Airbnb's dispositive motion on July 7, 2019, and issued a final written arbitration Award. The Award concluded that “Claimant's claims are dismissed as previously settled and therefore the Arbitrator does not award damages, fees, costs or expenses to her.” The Award has not been modified, corrected, or vacated. Ms. Du Ju has not served any notice of a motion to vacate, modify, or correct the arbitration award, but has said informally in an email and letter that she plans to seek clarification of the Award and/or file a motion to vacate under 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3).

Dkt. 77 at 2 (internal citations omitted). The day after Airbnb filed its motion to confirm the arbitration award, Ju filed a motion to vacate it. Dkt. 79. On July 29, 2019, Airbnb responded to Ju's motion, Dkt. 82, and Ju responded to Airbnb's motion, Dkt. 83. On August 1, 2019, Airbnb replied to Ju's motion. Dkt. 85. On August 2, 2019, Ju replied to Airbnb's motion. Dkt. 86.

         2. Motion to Dismiss

         On April 19, 2019, the Court issued an order (“the April 19 Order”) denying a motion to dismiss brought by Lacombe for procedural error. Dkt. 69. Within the April 19 Order, the Court construed Ju's response as a request for leave to amend her complaint, see Dkt. 61 at 9, 11-13, which the Court granted, Dkt. 69 at 2-4. To the extent that Ju sought to add to or clarify her claims against the already-dismissed State Defendants, the Court denied leave to amend. Id. at 2. The Court explained that it was granting leave to amend against the remaining defendants (Lacombe and Airbnb) because the factual basis for Ju's claims against these defendants was confusing, leaving the Court unable to assess subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. at 4. As a result, the Court ordered Ju to file an amended complaint by May 3, 2019 that specifically explained how Lacombe allegedly acted in interference with her rights on each claim. Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 540 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Because Airbnb and Ju had been compelled to arbitration when the April 19 order issued, the Court explained in a footnote that “[t]he litigation stay between Ju and Airbnb remains operative should the amended complaint require a responsive pleading from Airbnb.” Dkt. 69 at 4 n.3.

         The Court approved an extension of the deadline for Ju's amended complaint, and on July 30, 2019, Ju filed an amended complaint (“FAC”) asserting claims against Airbnb and Lacombe. Dkt. 84. On August 9, 2019, Lacombe filed a motion to dismiss the FAC. Dkt. 88. On September 3, 2019, Ju responded. Dkt. 89. Lacombe did not reply.

         3. Cross-Motions for Default

         On September 5, 2019, Ju moved for default judgment against Airbnb because Airbnb did not respond to the FAC. Dkt. 90. Also on September 5, 2019, Airbnb responded, moved for default, moved to strike Ju's motion, and requested fees and costs associated with its filing. Dkt. 91. Also on September 5, 2019, Ju replied. Dkt. 92.


         Airbnb moves to confirm the arbitration award and for entry of judgment dismissing all claims against it with prejudice. Dkts. 77, 91. Ju moves for an order vacating the arbitration award, Dkt. 79, and for entry of default against Airbnb, Dkt. 90. Lacombe moves to dismiss the FAC. Dkt. 88.

         A. Arbitration & Default Judgment

         1. Motions to confirm and to vacate arbitration award

         Under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., a Court must confirm an arbitration award when a controversy has been arbitrated pursuant to a valid arbitration provision and the award has not been vacated, modified, or corrected. FAA § 9. In this case, the Court previously found that a valid arbitration provision existed and compelled the parties to arbitration. Dkt. 54 at 13-14. The arbitrator in that proceeding issued an award dismissing all claims against Airbnb. Thus, this Court must confirm the award subject to Ju's motion to vacate it. FAA § 9.

         Airbnb filed a dispositive motion in the arbitration based in part on Ju's alleged settlement of claims against Airbnb prior to the arbitration's commencement. Dkt. 79, Declaration of Kathleen C. Bricken, at 3-6. In response, Ju asserted that the settlement agreement was not valid because she sent a letter to this Court advising of the settlement, asking for approval of it, and requesting issuance of a settlement order, which the Court took no action on. Id. at 4. The arbitrator issued a written order ruling on the settlement issue as follows:

         Decision on Dispositive Motion. Airbnb's motion to dismiss is granted, and Ms. Du Ju's claims are dismissed on the grounds that she settled all of her claims against Airbnb.

         The validity and enforceability of a settlement agreement are determined by reference to the substantive law of contracts, Stottlemyre v. Reed, 35 Wn.App. 169, 665 P.2d 1383 (1983). Accord, Veith v. Xterra Wetsuits, LLC, 144 Wn.App. 362, 183 P.3d 334 (2008). A contract exists when the parties' intention is plain and the terms of a contract are agreed upon, even if one or both parties contemplate later execution of a writing. Id.

         Here, Ms. Du Ju made an offer of settlement to Airbnb. (Bricken Decl. Ex. D.) She specified the manner and time of acceptance. Id. Airbnb responded as specified, before the expiration of the offer, and unequivocally accepted the offer of settlement. Id. There was consideration; namely mutual agreements that each party would bear her or its own attorneys' fees and costs in connection with litigation prior to the settlement. Id. There was, therefore, a settlement.

         The settlement was not conditioned on a writing, and in any event, Ms. Du Ju took the position that a writing prepared by Airbnb's counsel was "exactly the same as what I told the Honorable Benjamin H. Settle in my 8/23/18 letter." Response to Respondent Airbnb Inc.'s Dispositive Motion to ...

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