Solid Ground dropped from the Charleena Lyles wrongful death lawsuit

Last week a King County Superior Court judge dismissed Solid Ground from the wrongful death lawsuit that the estate and family of Charleena Lyles filed last year.

The Lyles estate originally filed the lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the two police officers who shot her. But last fall they added Solid Ground, the operator of the housing complex where Lyles and her children lived, as an additional defendant, arguing that Solid Ground’s failure to assign Lyles a case manager for six months and its failure to report her threatening behavior to a child last May were contributing factors to the incident.

Solid Ground subsequently moved the court to dismiss them from the lawsuit. They argued two reasons:

  1. “First, Solid Ground did not have a legal duty to protect Ms. Lyles against harms beyond its control, including deterioration of her mental health and police violence. Plaintiffs suggest Solid Ground’s contract with Ms. Lyles establishes this duty, but Washington law is clear that contractual duties do not give rise to the tort liability Plaintiffs seek. Nor can Plaintiffs identify any statutory or common-law duties that obligated Solid Ground to prevent the tragedy.”
  2. “Second, Plaintiffs are unable to show that, of all the many people and entities that interacted with Ms. Lyles, Solid Ground bears responsibility for her mental decompensation and ultimate
    shooting death by Seattle Police.” They go on to list all the organizations that interacted with her, including CASA Services, court protection, Sound Mental Health, SPD, King County Jail, the public defender, Harborview Medical Center, and the Mental Health Court. “Amidst all these interventions, singling out one or two or even three of the above actors as the “cause” of her death is an almost impossibly fraught exercise. Even if it were possible, here, there is simply no basis for alleging that Solid Ground proximately caused the harms Ms. Lyles suffered. Plaintiffs claim that Solid Ground is the cause of Ms. Lyles’s declining mental health status and ultimate death because it did not provide her a housing case manager from September 2016 to March 2017 and because it allegedly did not report her threatening behavior toward a child on or about May 28, 2017.2 Their allegation that Solid Ground’s alleged omissions led to her death is pure speculation, particularly in light of all the other services she was receiving (or not receiving) from other agencies, courts, law enforcement, and service providers. Moreover, Plaintiffs have no basis for holding Solid Ground liable because the ultimate cause of Ms. Lyles’s death—a police shooting—was, as a matter of law, an unforeseeable, superseding cause that broke the chain of causation. The complaint fails to allege proximate cause as a matter of law.”

The judge apparently agreed with Solid Ground, and last Friday issued a brief order dismissing them from the case without further comment on the merits of the arguments on either side.

Despite proclaiming their legal innocence, back in February Solid Ground published a list of the reform measures they have taken since the incident last June.

Solid Ground announced the ruling last Friday in a statement, saying, “We will move forward with our focus on the healing work that is ahead.”

The case against the city and the police officers continues. In February, the Court approved a request from the parties to push out the trial date to January 2019.