The 21 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the city of Seattle for not enforcing the law against the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, will get their day in court, though the city’s liability in such matters remains in question.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly of the Western District of Washington issued an opinion on Friday stating, “Plaintiffs plausibly allege that the City’s actions—encouraging CHOP participants to wall off the area and agreeing to a ‘no response’ zone within and near CHOP’s borders—foreseeably placed Plaintiffs in a worse position.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Signal.
The plaintiffs are 21 businesses in the area of the city that protesters declared an “autonomous zone” from June 8 to July 1 and used barriers to block off. “Inhabitants” even declared the area was no longer part of the United States.
Zilly rejected the city of Seattle’s motion to dismiss the case and allowed three grounds of the plaintiffs’ case to proceed; namely, that the city unlawfully took their private property for public use without compensation, restricted the business owners’ access to their property, and didn’t protect the businesses from a danger of the city’s own making.
However, Zilly dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that the city violated their constitutional rights to equal protection under the law.
The law firm of Calfo Eakes, representing the plaintiffs, did not respond to phone and email inquiries from The Daily Signal.
The case itself is far from clear-cut, said Paul Larkin, a senior legal research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
“The Supreme Court has held three times that no one has the right to government enforcement of the law, but if the government doesn’t enforce the law, it can’t be for a bad or illegitimate reason,” Larkin told The Daily Signal.
An “illegitimate reason” would be where the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause would come in, but the judge rejected that portion.
Larkin stressed that he hasn’t examined the specific case and was speaking only in broad legal terms. He said there are legitimate issues of a constitutional Takings Clause claim.
“Suppose you own a house, and the police put a cordon around your house, and you can’t enter. They have essentially taken away your right to it, or, if the government causes an area to be flooded, and it destroys a house, that would be a takings claim,” Larkin said. “If police refuse to enforce criminal law, that could be a credible takings claim.”
Business owners were prevented from entering their property in the occupied area. In some cases in the “autonomous zone,” businesses were damaged and car traffic was blocked.
The businesses owners also lost potential revenue. The lawsuit alleges that the Seattle Police Department ignored the zone and allowed the protesters to damage property. Moreover, the litigation blames the city of Seattle for providing concrete barriers, medical supplies, portable toilets, and other assistance to the protesters’ makeshift zone.
The city of Seattle sought unsuccessfully to have the lawsuit dismissed.
The Seattle Police Department abandoned its East Precinct on June 8 with the stated intent of de-escalating the riots. The CHOP inhabitants issued a list of demands that included calling on the city to release prisoners and defund the police. The city government had ordered the police to stand down.
The Seattle Police Department dismantled the CHOP zone only after two black teenagers were shot to death, four victims were injured in shootings, and others reported violent assaults and threats.