Fort Lawton lawsuit might be over soon

When we last looked in on Elizabeth Campbell’s legal attempt to derail the redevelopment of the old Fort Lawton army base as affordable housing, her attorney was running for the closest exit. Then COVID happened, and the court system ground to a halt.  But today Campbell and the other parties in the case filed a joint status update with the court — and it’s clear that the City of Seattle has run out of patience.


Campbell filed her lawsuit on behalf of herself and her organization Discovery Park Community Alliance, suing the city over its plan to accept the property free of charge from the U.S. Army, turn a portion of the property over to Seattle Public Schools for use as athletic fields, make another portion an extension of Discovery Park, and use a substantial part for affordable housing. Last fall, the city asked the court to order Campbell and DPCA to amend their complaint to add the Army and Seattle Public Schools as additional parties to the case, since any order coming from the court would necessarily affect them too. The judge agreed and issued the order. Campbell and her lawyer dragged their feet, but when her lawyer asked to withdraw from the case, the judge conditioned his exit on issuing the amended complaint. Not surprisingly, the lawyer sent it out a few days later and bid a hasty adieu.

There are a few interesting revelations in the new status report filed today. First, it seems that Campbell has been unsuccessful in finding a new attorney, after burning through three on this case, so she is representing herself. However, the court’s rules specify that while individuals can represent themselves, organizations must be represented by an attorney — which Campbell is not.  We also learn from the report that Campbell’s last attorney failed to correctly serve the new complaint on the Army: while he sent it to the Army’s litigation department on February 10, he was also required to send it to the Attorney General and to the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, and did not do so. Since the Army was not properly served the complaint, its attorneys have not filed a “notice of appearance” in the case indicating that they are participating as a party. Parties have 90 days from filing a complaint with the court to properly serve it to the relevant parties; that deadline has expired.

For her part, Campbell has now let it be known that she intends to try to add four additional parties to the case: the U.S Department of Education; the National Parks Service; the Archdiocese of Seattle; and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. The four are partners, along with Seattle Public Schools, in the redevelopment plan for the site.

Campbell has also said that she believes she is entitled to conduct discovery in the case; the city disagrees. Adding a discovery process would add several months to the schedule, pushing out a potential trial potentially to September 2021.

The city also filed two motions today:

1. A motion to dismiss the Discovery Park Community Alliance from the case for lack of an attorney.

2. A motion to dismiss the entire case for failure to properly join the U.S. Army to the case, or alternatively to set a deadline for Campbell to properly serve the complaint on the Army. The city presses the judge to take the first route and dismiss the case:

Equity would also favor dismissal of this case, which has dragged on for more than a year yet still not assembled the necessary parties. Petitioners are not engaged. They retained and jettisoned two sets of counsel, see Dkt. #s 14 and 37 (orders granting motions to withdraw), took three months to comply with this Court’s order to file and serve an amended petition naming the Army and SPS, compare Dkt. # 25 (Order) with Dkt. # 32 (Amended Petition), and then apparently did not follow up with the Army when it failed to appear for four months. Petitioner Elizabeth Campbell cannot claim ignorance of the requirement to timely and properly serve a federal agency—she was the subject of a motion to dismiss on that basis in this Court… As this case now enters its second year, Ms. Campbell has stated her intent to add two more federal agencies, the local archdiocese, and a tribal foundation as Respondents, portending further delay… This Court may dismiss this case in good conscience.

The city also noted in the status report that if anything remains of the case after those two motions are ruled upon, it intends to file a motion this fall “seeking dismissal of this case as a matter of law.”

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour, who is hearing the case, has shown remarkable restraint so far with Campbell’s tactics, and given her plenty of opportunities to correct her errors. However, he has already warned her that DPCA must be represented by an attorney, and after ordering her attorney to file and serve the amended complaint before he could withdraw, he will not be happy to hear that it was done incorrectly. Coughenour is not known for suffering fools gladly, and he may just decide that he’s had enough too.

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