Order denying class certification for property and business owners impacted by CHOP

This afternoon U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly issued an order denying class certification for a lawsuit related to the potentially thousands of property and business owners who were impacted by the CHOP in June 2020.

A group of business and property owners had filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, alleging negligence on the part of the city and denial of their property and due process rights when the CHOP activists blocked off several blocks of Capitol Hill and SPD and SFD declined in many cases to respond to calls in that area. The plaintiffs then moved for certification of a class that would allow them to represent all of the people negatively impacted — potentially thousands of them. The City of Seattle opposed the class certification, arguing that the circumstances were different for each of them.

In a hearing last month, Judge Zilly asked hard questions of both sides. He pressed the plaintiffs on issues around whether the injuries were indeed similar enough across the plaintiffs, to which the plaintiffs’ attorneys responded by arguing that they were only asking the judge to certify a certain set of issues for the larger class, namely ones related to the city’s actions and liability and not those about specific injuries. Zilly pushed the City hard on what would happen if he did not certify a class, particular the challenges of managing potentially hundreds of separate cases; the City said that they did not anticipate issues around that.

In his ruling, Judge Zilly came down on the side of the city on several of the requirement for certifying a class, and especially the “commonality” requirement. He said that despite the plaintiffs’ assertions, the issues they proposed for class certification could not be resolved by “generalized proof on a class-wide basis.”

Zilly directed the parties to confer and propose back to him by May 27th how case-management should be handled “to address the complex nature of this action given the variety and number of named plaintiffs.” He suggested that perhaps “three or four representative plaintiffs” could be selected for the trial — a strange recommendation, given that he had just ruled that a small set of plaintiffs couldn’t represent a larger class.

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