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Moore v. Johanknecht

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

December 20, 2019

EVA MOORE and BROOKE SHAW, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
MITZI JOHANKNECHT, in her official capacity as KING COUNTY SHERIFF, Defendant.


          Thomas S. Zilly, United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, docket no. 70, and defendant's motion for summary judgment, docket no. 81. Having reviewed all papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, each motion, the Court enters the following Order.


         Plaintiffs Eva Moore and Brooke Shaw challenge the constitutionality of a provision of Washington's Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (“RLTA”), namely RCW 59.18.375. Plaintiffs contend that RCW 59.18.375 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, Section 3 of the Washington State Constitution, [1] because it (i) prescribes a form of notice that does not provide residential tenants with comprehensive information about their rights, and (ii) allows writs of restitution to be issued in favor of landlords without a hearing.

         In July 2016, plaintiffs initiated this suit in King County Superior Court against former King County Sheriff John Urquhart. See Compl. (docket no. 2-1). Less than two weeks later, plaintiffs added class allegations, [2] Am. Compl. (docket no. 1-1), and the case was then removed to this Court, see Notice of Removal (docket no. 1). In December 2016, the Court granted Urquhart's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) on the ground that he was not an appropriate defendant. See Order (docket no. 45). While plaintiffs' appeal from this ruling was pending before the Ninth Circuit, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht was elected and assumed office. In August 2018, the Ninth Circuit reversed and held that plaintiffs may maintain this action against the Sheriff and seek declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). See Moore v. Urquhart, 899 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 2018).

         On remand, plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, docket no. 70, arguing that RCW 59.18.375 is unconstitutional as a matter of law. The case was stayed when the Sheriff petitioned to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. Minute Order (docket no. 77). The petition was denied on May 20, 2019, see Joint Status Report (docket no. 78), but by then, the Washington Legislature had enacted sweeping changes to the RLTA. See Laws of 2019, ch. 356 (Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5600). In late June 2019, the Court directed the parties to file a Joint Status Report addressing whether the amendments to the RLTA rendered moot any of the issues raised by plaintiffs in this case; however, the earlier stay remained in place. See Minute Order (docket no. 79). The parties timely submitted a Joint Status Report and articulated opposite views concerning the effects of the recent legislation. See Joint Status Report (docket no. 80). On July 28, 2019, the revisions to the RLTA became effective. Shortly thereafter, despite the stay, the Sheriff filed a motion for summary judgment, docket no. 81, contending that the Court lacks Article III (“case or controversy”) jurisdiction and that plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge either the previous or the current statutory scheme. The Court hereby LIFTS the stay and considers the pending motions.


         A. Applicable Standards

         The Court treats the Sheriff's motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Cal. Save Our Streams Council, Inc. v. Yeutter, 887 F.2d 908, 913 (9th Cir. 1989) (“Summary judgment is an inappropriate disposition when the district court lacks jurisdiction.”); see also Foster v. Carson, 347 F.3d 742 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that a moot claim must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction). A Rule 12(b)(1) challenge may take the form of either (i) a “facial” attack, which accepts the truth of the allegations in the complaint, but contends that they are insufficient “on their face” to establish jurisdiction; or (ii) a “factual” attack, which contests the plaintiff's assertions, perhaps by introducing evidence outside the pleadings. See Leite v. Crane Co., 749 F.3d 1117, 1121 (9th Cir. 2014). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court may resolve factual disputes so long as they are not “intertwined” with the merits of the plaintiff's claims. Id. at 1121-22 & n.3.

         In contrast, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court may not decide any genuine disputes of material fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rather, the Court must “believe” the non-moving party's “affirmative evidence” and favorably draw therefrom all “justifiable inferences.” See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 257 (1986). In this matter, because plaintiffs are the ones seeking summary judgment, they bear the burden of demonstrating the absence of factual issues. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. With respect to plaintiffs' motion under Rule 56, the question before the Court is whether the record, taken as a whole, could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the Sheriff and reject the notion that RCW 59.18.375 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. If so, then summary judgment is not warranted, and the matter must proceed to trial.

         B. Residential Landlord-Tenant Act

         Under Washington law, tenants of real property for terms less than life are liable for “unlawful detainer” if they engage in the conduct described in RCW 59.12.030, which includes continuing in possession of the property after nonpayment of rent[3] and failing to timely comply with a properly served, written notice to pay or surrender the premises.[4]RCW 59.12.030(3). Prior to July 28, 2019, the cure (pay or vacate) period was three (3) days after service of the notice for all types of properties. Id. (2018). In connection with the recent amendments to the RLTA, the cure period for residential tenants was increased to fourteen (14) days after service of the notice.[5] Id. (2019); see Laws of 2019, ch. 356, § 2. If a tenant remains in possession of the property after the cure period expires, the landlord may commence proceedings to evict the tenant. 17 William B. Stoebuck & John W. Weaver, Wash. Prac., Real Estate §§ 6.80 & 6.81 (2d ed. 2004) [hereinafter “Stoebuck”].

         With respect to residential properties, the RLTA specifies the form of summons that must be served on a tenant in connection with an unlawful detainer matter. See RCW 59.18.365. The form of summons was substantially modified in 2019. See Laws of 2019, ch. 356, § 9. Before the recent amendments took effect, a summons was required to state, directly under the caption, “THIS IS NOTICE OF A LAWSUIT TO EVICT YOU, ” to recite the deadline for a response and the tenant's name and address, and to explain as follows:

This is a notice of a lawsuit to evict you from the property which you are renting. Your landlord is asking the court to terminate your tenancy, direct the sheriff to remove you and your belongings from the property, enter a money judgment against you for unpaid rent and/or damages for your use of the property, and for court costs and attorneys' fees.

RCW 59.18.365 (2018). With the passage of Senate Bill 5600, the form of summons now begins “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT LEGAL DOCUMENT TO EVICT YOU, ” and after setting forth the deadline for a response, it reads:

GET HELP: If you do not respond by the deadline above, you will lose your right to defend yourself in court and could be evicted. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may call 2-1-1. They can refer you to free or low-cost legal help. They can help you find help to pay for a lawyer.

RCW 59.18.365 (2019) (emphasis in original).

         The revised form informs tenants that “phone calls” to their landlords are not considered a “response” to the summons, that a “response” instead consists of a “notice of appearance” including the tenant's contact information, and that a notice of appearance must be provided to the landlord or the landlord's attorney and, if the case has been filed, to the clerk of the court. Id. The summons then indicates that, if the tenant responds, he or she “will be notified of your hearing date in a document called an ‘Order to Show Cause.'” Id. It further warns:

If you get notice of a hearing, you must go to the hearing. If you do not show up, your landlord can evict you.

Id. (emphasis in original).

         The RLTA sets forth two ways through which a landlord may obtain, in advance of trial, a writ of restitution that directs a sheriff to restore possession of the property to the landlord. See Stoebuck at § 6.81; see also RCW 59.18.370 & .375. The first method applies with respect to all grounds constituting unlawful detainer (see supra note 4); the second procedure may be used only when nonpayment of rent is the landlord's asserted basis for relief. See Stoebuck at § 6.81. The first method involves applying to a state court, at the time when a complaint alleging unlawful detainer is filed or thereafter, for an order directing the tenant to show cause why a writ of restitution should not be issued. See RCW 59.18.370. The show cause order must be served on the tenant, along with a summons and a copy of the complaint, if not previously served. Id. The show cause hearing must be scheduled for not less than seven (7) and not more than thirty (30) days after the date of service on the tenant of the show cause order. Id. The first procedure for securing a prejudgment writ of restitution requires the landlord to post a bond in an amount set by the court. RCW 59.18.380. If the unlawful detainer action is premised on nonpayment of rent, the tenant may stay execution of any writ of restitution by paying the rent in arrears and continuing to pay rent on a monthly basis pending final judgment. Id.; see also Stoebuck at § 6.81.

         The second method for procuring a pretrial writ of restitution requires the landlord to file a summons and complaint with the appropriate superior court and to deliver to the tenant a separate notice in the form set forth in RCW 59.18.375. See RCW 59.18.375(7). Such stand-alone notice must be captioned as “PAYMENT OR SWORN STATEMENT REQUIREMENT” and must advise that, by the deadline set forth, which must be at least seven (7) days after service of the notice, the tenant must either pay rent into the court registry or file a sworn ...

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