CHOP business owners’ lawsuit against city gets pared down, city officials get spanked for deleting texts

U.S. District Court Thomas Zilly handed down two rulings today in the “Hunters Capital” lawsuit filed by a collection of Capitol Hill business owners and residents in response to the city’s handling of the CHOP in the summer of 2020.

The city had filed a motion for summary judgment to have the plaintiffs’ various claims dismissed; Zilly granted that in part, with only two parts remaining: the claim of a government taking of their “right of access” to their property, and the claim that the city contributed to creating a nuisance.

Separately, both sides had filed claims for “spoilation of evidence” due to deletion of text messages: several high-level city officials had deleted relevant text messages (some of which were recovered), and some of the plaintiffs had also deleted or lost text messages. Zilly ruled on those motions as well today. For the plaintiffs, he found that some of the messages had been knowingly deleted and that it prejudiced the city’s ability to provide a defense; he granted the city the right to present evidence to a jury about those deleted messages. More significantly, he found substantial circumstantial evidence that several city officials had deleted messages with intent to deprive the plainitffs of those messages, and that too was prejudicial. Zilly considered whether to decide the case in the plaintiffs’ favor on that basis alone, given that the messages were between Mayor Durkan, SPD Chief Best, and SFD Chief Skoggins, but he decided that would be too extreme a remedy. Instead, he will allow the plaintiffs to present evidence to the jury about the deleted messages, and he will deliver an instruction to the jury that they may presume the deleted messages were unfavorable to the city.

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