Update on court cases – October 19, 2020

It’s been a busy day for the city in court. Here are four updates — if nothing else, reading the briefs might just cure your insomnia.


Gun safety ordinance – Alim vs. City of Seattle

To be honest, I’d almost forgotten entirely about this case. In July of 2018, the City Council passed a gun-safety ordinance requiring firearms to be locked away when not in the owner’s direct possession. Two weeks later, the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation sued, arguing that the entire field of firearm regulation is pre-empted under state law. In February of 2019, the judge granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, “arguing that the challengers failed to allege facts sufficient to demonstrate a justiciable controversy.” The plaintiffs immediately appealed. Briefs were filed with the Court of Appeals through the end of July 2019. Oral arguments were rescheduled several times, the case was continued again and again, COVID happened, and finally oral arguments happened last month. Today the Appeals Court handed down its ruling.

The Court found that the trial court had confused the concept of “jurisdiction” with “justiciability,” and overturned the lower-court ruling. The lower court definitely has subject matter jurisdiction, it said, and the plaintiffs should have the opportunity to amend their complaint to clarify the “justiciable controversy.”  The city had argued that since the plaintiffs stated that their current practice was already consistent with the gun safety ordinance, their was no “justiciable controversy” for the court to decide. But the plaintiffs have since clarified that they don’t intend to keep all of their firearms locked up in their own house, so there is, in fact, a controversy. So finally over two years in the city’s attempt to dispose of the case on a technicality has been pushed aside, and the case will proceed.


Crowd Control Weapons – Black Lives Matter/ACLU vs. City of Seattle

You will recall that last week at a hearing the judge ordered the parties to confer on logistical issues related to holding an evidentiary hearing on whether to find the city in contempt. That report was submitted this afternoon, in advance of another hearing scheduled for tomorrow morning.

For the most part, the city and the plaintiffs have agreed on things that will make Judge Jones happy:

  • There will be no live testimony; just written testimony and video evidence accompanied by oral arguments.
  • The scope of evidence from the plaintiffs is mainly the written declarations and videos that they have already submitted, which limits for the city, as defendant, what it needs to respond to.
  • The city will respond to the plaintiffs’ motion by November 2nd (unless the judge grants their request to extend that date, which he probably won’t). The plaintiffs will then file their reply within seven days.
  • The proceedings will be split, as the judge said he wanted it:  first whether the city should be found in contempt; then if the answer is yes, what appropriate sanctions should be.

The one significant area of disagreement remaining is on how much video evidence (mostly body-cam footage) the city will need to turn over to the plaintiffs. The city plans to submit as evidence relevant snippets of body-cam footage related to the specific incidents alleged, and it proposed giving the plaintiffs an additional 30 seconds of footage before and after each of its snippets. The plaintiffs, however, want all of the body-cam footage before and after the snippet, not just 30 seconds’ worth.  Also, the plaintiffs want “any other relevant video evidence Defendant discovers in its review of videos even if it chooses not to include this video evidence in its submission to the court, arguing that it’s not more work for the city since it needs to review it all anyway. The city opposes that level of breadth, saying “the broad discovery standard of “relevance” should not be applied to this narrow and focused motion.”  We’ll see how the judge rules tomorrow morning, but there’s a good chance the city will lose both of these arguments.

Judge Jones has indicated that he has three week-long trials beginning November 30, so he is highly motivated to get this evidentiary hearing done and behind him. Expect that he’ll order the city to file its brief and evidence by November 2, the plaintiffs to reply by November 9, and then oral arguments perhaps as soon as one week later so that he has a bit of time to consider and write his order.

More tomorrow.


Crowd control weapons – Benton vs City of Seattle

Ah yes, the other crowd control weapons case. The plaintiffs recently renewed their motion for a preliminary injunction banning all crowd control weapons based upon incidents on four additional days — the same four incidents the BLM/ACLU case is pushing for a contempt finding over.  Today the city filed its response, pointing out that the plaintiffs admit they did not take part in any of the four incidents in question and asking the court to once again deny the motion for the same reasons their earlier motion was denied.

The city also requested that this case be stayed until the BLM/ACLU case is fully resolved, since they are so similar. It all but asked for the two cases to be joined into a single case, even using the phrase “stay and consolidation” at one point, but didn’t explicitly ask for it. That suggests that the city would rather not be dealing with these plaintiffs at all. That’s not surprising, since in reading the plaintiffs’ briefs and legal arguments one gets the sense that they are not being represented by “A” team attorneys. Judge Jones’ rulings — almost universally against the plaintiffs — sometimes give the sense that they are straining his patience as well.

The plaintiffs will get a chance to respond before the judge rules on the city’s motion.


Che Taylor wrongful death lawsuit

Recently the judge in this case ruled against the police officers’ claim of “qualified immunity” — at least at this stage in the case, because he found that there are still relevant facts in dispute that need to be resolved at trial. He did, however, hold out out the possibility that once the trial is complete he might return to the question and find that the officers do indeed have qualified immunity.

Nevertheless, the officers immediately appealed the judge’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. They then asked the trial court judge to stay the case until the appeal court rules on the issue of qualified immunity.

Today the plaintiffs filed a brief opposing a stay, arguing that under the law the trial itself could be stayed, but all the machinations leading up to the trial could still proceed. But they went further, asking the judge to certify the officers’ appeal as “frivolous” — which would be one more reason to deny the stay. It’s frivolous, they argue, because it’s obvious that there are relevant facts in dispute, as the judge found.

This case has already been almost three years of procedural ping-pong, and and there’s no sign of it letting up. Assuming the judge doesn’t stay the case, the parties will try mediation in December, and if that fails they are looking at a tentative trial date of April 19, 2021.


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