Catching up on the city’s court cases

It’s been almost two months since my last catch-all posting on the status of the City of Seattle’s various outstanding legal battles. Stuff has happened, so it’s time for an update.

FYI, you can find case history and associated legal documents for all of these cases at any time on my Court Cases page.

Uber drivers’ union cases

Uber vs. the City of Seattle: Uber lost in King County Superior Court, and appealed. This case has been stayed pending resolution of a related case.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce vs. City of Seattle:  The Chamber lost at the district court level, and appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Briefs have been filed, and a hearing is scheduled in Seattle for February 5.

Uber drivers vs. City of Seattle: Also about the city allowing Uber drivers to unionize, the city also won at the district court level and the drivers appealed to the 9th Circuit. The drivers have filed their brief; the city’s response is due December 1, and a hearing is scheduled for February 5 — the same day as for the Chamber of Commerce’s case.

Sanctuary city

City of Seattle vs. Trump et al: the judge denied a motion from the US government to dismiss the case. However, both sides have agreed to stay the case until a nearly identical case in Northern California is resolved.

Homeless sweeps

ACLU vs. City of Seattle: On October 4th, the judge denied the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the city, and also denied the ACLU’s motion to certify it as a class-action lawsuit representing all homeless persons in Seattle. The ACLU has petitioned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to appeal the denial of class-action status, and has asked the district court judge to stay the case until the Court of Appeals rules on its petition. Neither the district court judge nor the Court of Appeals have ruled on the ACLU’s motions.

Initiative 124 (Hotel Workers)

American Hotel and Lodging Association, et al vs. City of Seattle: After a King County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city and upholding Initiative 124, the plaintiffs appealed directly to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take the case, though it appears to be on the agenda for their next scheduling conference in early January.

Democracy Vouchers

Elster vs. City of Seattle:  in early November a King County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the City, finding that the Democracy Voucher program is constitutional. The plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the ruling, which the judge declined. The plaintiffs have not yet filed an appeal.

Police reform

U.S. DOJ vs. City of Seattle: When last we looked in on this case, the city had asked Judge Robart to declare the city in “full and effective compliance” with the consent decree, which would stat the two-year clock ticking on terminating the consent decree. However, on November 20th, Judge Robert issued an order requiring the parties to submit additional briefs on two recent issues:

  • the recently-adopted collective bargaining agreement with SPMA, the union representing SPD lieutenants and captains, which allows for arbitration apparently outside the limitations of the police accountability ordinance;
  • the recent Force Review Board’s finding that the shooting death of Charleena Lyles was within departmental policy.

Robart has requested those briefs be filed by December 8th, though city Attorney Pete Holmes has already sent a letter to Robart providing further context on the SPMA agreement.

Income tax

Kunath et al vs. City of Seattle: On November 17th, the judge held a hearing in the case. The following week, he issued a ruling, finding in favor of the plaintiffs and throwing out the income tax ordinance as in violation of the state law prohibiting a tax on “net income.” The judge did not rule on the constitutional issue of whether income is property. The city has indicated it will appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, the plaintiff has filed a motion for sanctions against the city for litigating a frivolous legal argument.

Opioid Epidemic

City of Seattle vs. Purdue Pharma, Seattle Pain Center, et al: The city originally filed its case in King County Superior Court as it is accusing the companies of violations of state (not federal) laws. Purdue Pharma filed to move the case from the state court system  into U.S. district court. Immediately after doing so, it filed paperwork to have the case consolidated into a “multi-district litigation” (MDL) proceeding which is attempting to consolidate dozens of individual lawsuits against opioid manufacturers into a single case. The City has moved to have the case remanded back to the state court system, as it doesn’t wish to get bogged down in a multi-year bureaucracy of multi-district litigation (and its case is entirely based on state law). Despite the fact that the MDL hasn’t even been certified yet (there is a hearing November 30th on that issue), Purdue is arguing that the district court should allow that process to go forward, let Seattle’s case be rolled into the MDL, and then let the MDL judge decide on whether to send the case back to state court — a process which could take over a year.  The city is pushing the judge to rule now, before the case is potentially consolidated.

Safe consumption sites

Protect Public Health vs. Free et al: After the city won a motion for declaratory judgment, the plaintiffs appealed directly to the state Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to take the case.

MHA City-wide upzone

Earlier this week, a coalition of organizations filed an appeal with the Hearing Examiner over the final Environmental Impact Statement associated with the proposed city-wide upzone that would activate the MHA program. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.


Tracking all of these legal cases is expensive and time-consuming. If you find these reports helpful and informative, please consider supporting my work by making a contribution through my Patreon site!