Catching up on court cases: September 1, 2021

It’s been quite the day for court rulings. Let’s dive straight in.

Benton vs. City of Seattle

You may remember this case, which was the second one filed last summer on behalf of protesters alleging that SPD illegally used force and so-called “less lethal” weapons during the protests. Much of the claims in the lawsuit duplicated those in the Black Lives Matter lawsuit; however, the one unique twist was that the Benton case alleges that SPD violated the protesters’ equal protection rights by effectively forcing protesters to buy personal protective gear in order to maintain their own safety while protesting, which they called a “de facto protest tax.” The plaintiffs also asked for a more extensive injunction, banning practically all of SPD’s uses of less-lethal weapons. Along with that, they asked the court for permission to amend their original complaint, adding additional incidents that occurred after the filing of their original complaint but also dropping their equal protection claim. Those two motions were filed nearly a year ago, on September 29, 2020. This morning, Judge Richard Jones (who also is hearing the Black Lives Matter case) finally issued his ruling on both.

Jones granted the motion to amend the original complaint. But then having effectively eliminated the one unique claim that differentiated this case from the Black Lives Matter case, he denied the motion for injunction arguing that the case was duplicative and the plaintiffs had not made a compelling argument for any relief beyond what he had already ordered in the Black Lives Matter injunction.

The case is still active and is scheduled for trial in February 2022 — assuming it isn’t settled before then, or consolidated into the Black Lives Matter case since the issues are essentially identical now.

Adley Shepherd termination

Today the Washington State Supreme Court declined to review the termination of SPD Officer Adley Shepherd. Shepherd was terminated by then-Chief Carmen Best after he punched a handcuffed suspect who was seated in the back seat of his patrol car and had kicked him. SPOG, the union representing front-line police officers such as Shepherd, appealed the termination decision to an arbitrator, who overturned it and reinstated him (though allowed other disciplinary measures to stand). SPD then appealed the arbitrator’s decision to King County Superior Court, who reversed the arbitrator’s ruling and upheld the termination. SPOG then further appealed to the state Court of Appeals, who in turn upheld the Superior Court ruling. SPOG asked the state Supreme Court to review it, leading to their refusal to do so today.

This case is particularly meaningful because it was cited by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart when he ruled that SPD was partially out of compliance with the 2012 Consent Decree with regard to police accountability, since it appeared that an arbitrator could overturn the Chief of Police’s disciplinary decisions. Robart made his decision shortly after the arbitrator’s ruling and before the city appealed it; at the time, the city and DOJ told Robart that one aberrant arbitrator’s decision was not indicative of a broken system and that it was confident it would be overturned upon appeal; time has shown them to be correct on the second matter, and Judge Robart will be the arbiter of the first.

Hotel workers healthcare mandate

Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an en banc rehearing of a ruling from a three-judge panel on a challenge to the city’s ordinance requiring hotel employers to provide healthcare coverage (in one of several forms) to their employees. As SCC Insight reported last month, the plaintiff, the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), took a bold stance arguing that the Ninth Circuit’s controlling case law had been wrongly decided and has created a circuit split with other federal appeals courts.

Today’s ruling ends deliberations on the case at the Ninth Circuit, but it wouldn’t be surprising if ERIC chose to appeal the case on to the U.S. Supreme Court. And the apparent circuit split increases the odds that the Supreme Court would take it up (though the odds are never good there).

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