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The GEO Group Inc. v. City of Tacoma

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

November 13, 2019

THE GEO GROUP, INC., Plaintiff,
CITY OF TACOMA, a Washington municipal corporation, Defendant.


          Ronald B. Leighton, United States District Judge.


         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff The GEO Group, Inc., and Defendant City of Tacoma's Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. Dkt. ## 50 & 63. GEO is a private company that owns and operates the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), an immigration detention facility in Tacoma's industrial tide flats district. GEO operates NWDC pursuant to a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On March 7, 2018, the City passed Amended Ordinance No. 28491, which restricts the ability of correctional and detention facilities to expand or modify their existing facilities in certain urban zones, including the zone where NWDC is located. This prompted GEO to sue the City to invalidate the Amended Ordinance as unconstitutional.

         The Court previously dismissed GEO's § 1983 damages claim. See Dkt. # 48. Now, GEO moves for summary judgment on its claims under the Supremacy Clause seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Dkt. # 50. According to GEO, the City's Amended Ordinance is unconstitutional because it directly regulates and discriminates against the Federal Government and is preempted by federal immigration law. The City has filed its own Cross Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that it is entitled to judgment on GEO's Supremacy Clause claims and that all of GEO's claims are not justiciable. Dkt. # 63.

         For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the City's Motion in part and DENIES GEO's Motion.


         GEO is a private company specializing in corrections, detention, and mental health treatment. For several years, GEO has operated NWDC as an immigration detention facility pursuant to a contract with ICE. Under its contract, GEO must “furnish the facility and services inclusive of a trained and qualified management staff, supervision, manpower, relief officer(s), uniforms, equipment, vehicles, and supplies.” 2015 ICE Contract, Dkt. # 51-1, at 43. The contract further provides that GEO must supply “a safe and secure environment for staff and detainees” and a facility that “shall accommodate 1, 575 adult detainees.” Id. at 45. GEO's relationship with ICE is described as a “partnership” that is “open, collaborative, customer-oriented, and professional.” Id. at 43. The contract states that only ICE detainees may be kept at NWDC and GEO cannot use the facility to house detainees from other agencies without ICE's approval. Id. at 51-1. The contract has apparently been amended ten times, but none of the amendments make fundamental changes to GEO's relationship with ICE. See ICE Contract Amendments, Dkt. # 51-2.

         On March 7, 2017, the City passed Interim Emergency Ordinance No. 28417, which “identif[ied] private correctional facilities as an unpermitted use in all zoning districts.” Dkt. # 52, Ex. C, at 3-4. Ordinance 28417 specifically singled out NWDC as the only private facility that could be affected by this prohibition. Id. at 2. On April 24, the Acting Director of ICE sent a letter to the mayor of Tacoma expressing his concern about Ordinance No. 28417 singling out NWDC, a facility used by the Federal Government. Homan Letter, Dkt. # 52, Ex. D. Several weeks later, the City passed Modified Interim Emergency Ordinance No. 28429, which removed the blanket prohibition on private facilities. Dkt. # 51, Ex. E.

         On February 6, 2018, the City solidified the goals from its interim ordinances by passing Amended Ordinance No. 28491. The Amended Ordinance prohibits correctional and detention facilities in all zoning districts other than Light Industrial (M-1). Dkt. # 52-1, Ex. F, at 2-3. It also “require[s] a Conditional Use Permit [CUP] for new correctional and detention facilities (in zones where they are allowed) or significant modifications to existing ones” and “limit[s] the availability of expansion for correctional and detention facilities by conditional use in the M-1 zone, to M-1 zones that were in place as of January 1, 2018.” Id. at 3. The accompanying revisions to the City's Municipal Code provide that detention and correctional facilities are permitted only in the M-1 zone with a CUP. Dkt. # 70-2, Ex. M, at 159-60. The Code further states that a CUP is “only available in the M-1 zones in place as of January 1, 2018.” Id. Initially, this limitation was only imposed on detention facilities (i.e., NWDC), see id., but it now applies to both detention and correctional facilities, see Tacoma, Wash., Municipal Code, § 13.06.400, RegulatoryCode.PDF (last visited Nov. 4, 2019).

         When the Amended Ordinance was passed, NWDC was located in the Port Maritime & Industrial (PMI) zone, rather than an M-1 zone, and therefore became a nonconforming use. Shakir Decl., Dkt. # 53, at 2; Findings of Fact and Recommendations Report, Dkt. # 70-2, Ex. I, at 3. The City's two public correctional facilities, the Pierce County Jail and the Remann Hall juvenile detention facility, were already nonconforming uses prior to the Amended Ordinance and were “not significantly impacted” by its passage. Id. at 3-4.

         The Amended Ordinance explains several of the City's considerations in passing the new zoning rules. They include “quality of life, health, safety, environmental, equity, and liability concerns of people living in areas not appropriate for human living, ” such as the “Tideflats industrial area.” Amended Ordinance, Dkt. # 52-1, Ex. F, at 1-2. In public hearings and through other writings, however, several Tacoma City Councilmembers have expressed disapproval of private prisons, GEO specifically, and President Trump's immigration agenda. Graham Decl., Dkt. # 70, Exs. C, E, F, & G.


         1. Standing and Ripeness

         The City argues that GEO's claims are not justiciable because they lack standing and their dispute is not ripe. To be justiciable under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, a claim must present a concrete “case or controversy” to invoke the court's jurisdiction. Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n, 220 F.3d 1134, 1139 (9th Cir. 2000). On summary judgment, a plaintiff may not merely rely on allegations in their complaint but must “set forth by affidavit or other evidence ...

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