Lawsuit against county dismissed; plaintiffs look to appeal

Judge Eaton has dismissed a class action lawsuit against San Juan County that alleges the county over-billed for building and land-use fees, and for misusing the fees after collection.

The case, which was filed March 9, 2015 on behalf of Community Treasures, was dismissed before the plaintiffs presented evidence to support their claims because of a partial motion put forward by the defense that Eaton approved in July.

The partial motion stated that the plaintiffs had to refile the case under the Land Use Petition Act, which has a 21 day deadline. Since the plaintiffs’ case regarded billing fees over the past three years, the time period fell outside of that 21 day deadline.

The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Nick Power, had originally filed the case under a tax statute, since they claimed the county’s practices of alleged over-billing clashed with RCW 82.02.020.

That statute prohibits governmental entities from using permit fees to cover the cost of unrelated programs and expenses, Power said in a press release in March of last year.

In this case, the plaintiffs claim that the building department was using fees to support the planning department.

“We expect to go to the court of appeals and we want to argue this very narrow issue about whether or not LUPA bars claims that we’ve made,” Power said.

“We are pleased with the outcome, and in due course we hope to be able to convince the plaintiffs that working to adjust the fee with a revised ordinance is better than litigating and avoids the risk of unnecessary attorney fees,” said San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord.

Though Power said the progress on these cases are “glacial,” if the plaintiffs were to win their case, they are asking for a refund of $1.2 million.

“Even if plaintiff’s don’t prevail because the county has wizened up and said ‘there might be some liability here, lets do it by the rules,’ I would be very surprised if I found they continued to allocate permit revenue the same way they used to,” Power said.

The plaintiffs will be filing an appeal to the case.