Seattle Court’s Decision Allows Property Owner Lawsuit Over “CHOP” to Move Forward
Property owners in Seattle, Washington who own property within the former “CHOP” zone filed a lawsuit against the City there alleging that they held a protected property interest in the full use and enjoyment of their property and that the City’s actions in support of “CHOP” caused them to suffer from the temporary deprivation of their property interests. “CHOP” is the so-named “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” area, or as it was also known as the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (“CHAZ”) and was also known as “Free Capitol Hill.” “CHOP” was an occupation protest and self-declared autonomous zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.
The property owner plaintiffs specifically alleged that from June 8, 2020 to July 1, 2020, “CHOP” protestors used barriers that were provided by the City, and with the City’s approval, protestors were permitted to block access from their properties to streets, sidewalks, and other public rights-of-way. Many of the property owners also allege that the allowance of “CHOP” to exist was the cause of much rampant crime and vandalism, and that because the City aided and abetted the “CHOP” participants, the property owners had been deprived of all or nearly all economic benefits and use of their properties. At least one of the property owner plaintiffs alleged that “CHOP” participants physically invaded its premises by setting up, without authorization, a “makeshift medical tent,” for which the City provided beds and medical equipment.
According to the court’s ruling in the matter, the property owners’ allegations are sufficient to support their claim that they were deprived of state-created property interests. The plaintiffs further alleged that the City provided these property owners with no notice or opportunity to be heard before or after depriving them of the freedom of movement, the right of access their properties, the right to use their properties, and the right to exclude others from their properties.
Under Washington state law, “[t]he right of access of an abutting property owner to a public right-of-way is a property right which if taken or damaged for a public use requires compensation.” Accordingly, the property owner plaintiffs further asserted a “takings” claim and alleged that the City allowed and encouraged “CHOP” participants to block access from the owners’ properties to streets and other public rights-of-way, resulting in the denial of all or virtually all economic use of their properties, and without just compensation. According to a court pleading: “[T]emporary takings are subject to the same categorical treatment as permanent takings where a regulation denies all use of the property.”
In its decision, the court acknowledged that judgments about where and to what degree the police should be deployed in these types of emergency situations are best left to the City. However, in this matter, the court found that the City’s endorsement of, and the provision of material support to, “CHOP” set in motion a series of acts by certain “CHOP” participants, who the City knew or reasonably should have known would deprive the property owners of protected property interests. The court further held that the allegations supported the claim that the City’s conduct was “causally related to [the] private misconduct” and it was “sufficiently direct and substantial to require compensation under the Fifth Amendment.”
Clearly, the court’s decision in this matter was very interesting, laying out in detail the chaos brought on by “CHOPS.” The “key” aspect in the court’s ruling was not only did the City of Seattle tolerate “CHOP,” or even just ignore it, but it actively aided and abetted it by providing material support such as street barricades and the like. Who knows, were it not for the inconvenient epidemic of shootings, rapes, and murders the utopian “CHOP” village might still be there to provide an example of this shining progressive City on a hill. Seattle Strong!