Shavlik et al v. City of Snohomish et al

Filing 25

ORDER denying plaintiffs' 20 Motion for declaratory relief signed by U.S. District Judge John C Coughenour.(RS)

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THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR 1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 7 8 9 LORI SHAVLIK AND KENNETH SHAVLIK, individually and as a marital community; 10 11 CASE NO. C17-0144-JCC ORDER Plaintiffs, v. 12 13 CITY OF SNOHOMISH, et al. 14 Defendants. 15 16 This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs’ motion for declaratory relief (Dkt. No. 17 20). Having thoroughly considered the parties’ briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds 18 oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein. 19 On February 4, 2010, a fire occurred at Plaintiff Lori Shavlik’s business, the Tan Line, 20 and Defendant Snohomish County Fire Protection was called to extinguish it. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 3.) 21 City of Snohomish Police investigated the fire and classified it as arson, bringing charges against 22 Lori Shavlik. (Dkt. No. 20-2 at 3–4.) The Snohomish Times then published an article, alleged to 23 have been sourced from the police department, stating that Mrs. Shavlik was “said to have a 24 million dollar insurance policy that may have been part of the motive in the arson attempts.” 25 (Dkt. No. 20-2 at 4.) After two trials, Mrs. Shavlik was acquitted and brings this lawsuit for 26 (1) defamation, (2) civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (3) intentional or reckless ORDER PAGE - 1 1 infliction of emotional distress, and (4) malicious prosecution. (See Dkt. No. 1-2.) Plaintiffs now 2 request the Court declare that it was legally and factually impossible for Mrs. Shavlik to directly 3 receive “money from a commercial general liability insurance coverage” as a result of the 2010 4 fire. (Dkt. No. 20 at 2.) 5 Defendants argue that under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act (UDJA), the 6 requested relief would be improper. (Dkt. No. 22.) The UDJA provides the Court with the 7 authority to issue a declaratory judgment requested by a party. See Wash. Rev. Code. § 7.24.010 8 (2017). “In order to decide an action for declaratory relief, a justiciable controversy must be 9 present.” Benton Cty. v. Zink, 361 P.3d 801, 805 (Wash. Ct. App. 2015) (citing To–Ro Trade 10 11 12 13 14 Shows v. Collins, 27 P.3d 1149, 1153 (2001)). A justiciable controversy is: an actual, present and existing dispute, or the mature seeds of one, as distinguished from a possible, dormant, hypothetical, speculative, or moot disagreement, (2) between parties having genuine and opposing interests, (3) which involves interests that must be direct and substantial, rather than potential, theoretical, abstract or academic, and (4) a judicial determination of which will be final and conclusive. 15 Benton, 361 P.3d at 805. “Unless all these elements are present, the reviewing court steps into 16 the prohibited area of advisory opinions.” Superior Asphalt & Concrete Co. Inc. v. Washington 17 Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 89 P.3d 316, 318 (Wash. Ct. App. 2004) (citing Diversified Indus. Dev. 18 Corp. v. Ripley, 514 P.2d 137, 139 (Wash. 1973)). “The court may refuse to render or enter a 19 declaratory judgment or decree where such judgment or decree, if rendered or entered, would not 20 terminate the uncertainty or controversy giving rise to the proceeding.” Wash. Rev. Code. 21 § 7.24.060. 22 Plaintiffs seek a declaration that will not resolve the controversy that gives rise to this 23 proceeding. Plaintiffs “allege that it is a violation of their civil rights to have the authorities use 24 as a legal weapon a factual and legal falsity as being a supposed motive for an ‘arson’ that never 25 occurred.” (Dkt. No. 20-2 at 10–11.) The Court takes Plaintiffs’ allegation as inferring that the 26 use of commercial liability coverage as a motive to pursue an investigation is untenable because ORDER PAGE - 2 1 the suspect could never receive payment under the policy. However, Plaintiffs’ claims do not 2 turn on the legal possibility or impossibility that Mrs. Shavlik could have collected on the 3 insurance policy. Rather, they depend on whether investigators could have reasonably believed 4 that Mrs. Shavlik believed she could collect on the policy. 5 The requested relief will not result in a “judicial determination that is final and 6 conclusive” and thus fails the final factor of the Benton standard. 361 P.3d at 805. Even if the 7 Court concluded such declaratory relief were legally sound, granting this relief would still leave 8 the same issues for the trier of fact to determine. While Plaintiffs argue that this goes to the 9 reasonableness of the investigation, it would be a supporting fact better left for a jury to evaluate. 10 The Court will not equate a legal impossibility to collect on a single insurance policy, with the 11 investigators having no probable cause to pursue the investigation. 12 13 14 For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs’ motion for declaratory relief (Dkt. No. 20) is DENIED. DATED this 11th day of July, 2017. A 15 16 17 John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 ORDER PAGE - 3

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