Catching up on court cases

The City of Seattle has so many high-profile court cases underway, it’s hard to stay up to date with them all. Here’s what’s been happening recently…

DOJ/SPD Consent Decree

After the police monitor filed a mostly-favorable report on the current status of SPD’s compliance with the consent decree, on Friday the City filed a motion asking Judge Robart to declare the city in “full and effective compliance” with the consent decree. Doing so would shift the city’s effort from establishing compliance to sustaining it for a two-year period, a requirement for termination of the consent decree. Right now the city is in a bind: its police accountability legislation is stuck in the mud without explicit approval from Robart, and it is also without a collective bargaining agreement with the police officers’ unions that supports its terms.  The consent decree doesn’t spell out every last detail of what the city must do to achieve “full and effective compliance.” And while the police monitor has said many complimentary things about SPD’s work, he also hasn’t declared full and effective compliance and noted a couple of areas where the city still needs to improve, including disparate racial impact in stops and in establishing trust with the community.  Robart seems in no hurry to end the consent decree; it wouldn’t be surprising if he waited until the police accountability legislation was fully implemented before declaring the city in compliance. It’s less clear how much better SPD’s relationship with the community needs to be before Robart is happy

City sues opioid makers

On Thursday the City of Seattle filed a lawsuit against several of the top opioid manufacturers. The complaint lays out in great detail how the opioid makers worked to systematically undermine the established fact in the medical community that opioids are highly addictive and thus inappropriate to prescribe for chronic pain.  The dramatic increase in use of prescription opioids has been widely recognized as a major contributor to the substance abuse crisis in the United States today. Trial is set for September 2018, though there will of course be a flurry of motions before then.  It will be interesting to see how much damaging information is revealed through discovery and depositions in advance of the trial. The Washington State Attorney General also filed a similar lawsuit on Thursday.

Income tax lawsuit

Several lawsuits against the city relating to its recently-passed income tax on wealthy Seattle residents have been consolidated into a single case. On Friday, the city filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the city is well within its rights to implement such a tax. From its press release:

The Seattle City Council was fully authorized by the state Legislature to enact a personal income tax on high-income residents and should not be bound by cases from the 1930s that held income is property for tax purposes, attorneys for the City Attorney’s Office argue.

Those nearly century-old Washington Supreme Court decisions “relied on case law that is no longer valid, incorrect statements of the law, and unfounded conclusions,” says the City’s motion for summary judgment filed Friday in the consolidated cases by four opponents of the tax.

Seattle’s personal income tax is best characterized as an excise tax rather than a property tax, the motion asserted. The case is assigned to King County Superior Court Judge John Ruhl, who will hear arguments at 10 a.m. on Nov. 17.

Democracy vouchers

In June, a lawsuit was filed challenging the constitutionality of the city’s “democracy voucher” program. On September 12 the city filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the democracy voucher program is at its heart a tax, and there is no precedent for allowing citizens to opt out of a legally-established tax because they personally object to how the money is spent. The plaintiffs’ response is due by October 12, and a hearing is scheduled for October 27th.

Initiative 124: Hotel Workers Protections

In June, a King County Superior Court judge ruled against a challenge to Initiative 124. In July, the plaintiffs appealed the matter directly to the state Supreme Court. The court has not yet decided whether it will take up the case.