Judge rules on Amaros versus San Juan County | Guest column

Submitted by David Dehlendorf

Below are details of the Oct. 8 court ruling in the lawsuit filed in 2018 by the Amaro family against the San Juan County Land Bank and the San Juan Preservation Trust. I attended the hearing where the ruling was issued.

The lawsuit alleged several violations of law related to the defendants’ purchases in 2015 and 2017 of two properties making up 180 acres of the 250-acre Mt. Grant Preserve on San Juan Island. The preserve was opened to public recreational access in 2019 after approval by the county council of a detailed management plan.

The lawsuit was originally filed in San Juan County Superior Court, but because of a potential conflict of interest was assigned instead to a judge in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The full Amaro lawsuit has not yet gone to trial. Instead, the Oct. 8 hearing before a judge in Everett dealt with six requests for summary judgment, three by each party. Summary judgment is a decision by a court at the request of either party in a lawsuit against the other party without a full trial.

On the three requests for summary judgment by the Land Bank/SJPT, the judge ruled:

1. In favor of the Land Bank/SJPT, ruling that their existing road easement agreement for the property allows public access to the Mt. Grant Preserve, including its summit area, despite the Amaros’ claim to the contrary. (A separate ruling described below limits this access to 180 acres.) This was the most important outcome of the hearing, as, without it, public access would possibly be eliminated.

2. In favor of the Land Bank/SJPT, ruling that the Land Bank did not commit “tortious interference,” as was claimed when it acquired a separate adjacent property in 2018 from a third party.

3. In favor of the Land Bank/SJPT, ruling that the Amaros had no legal basis to claim that there had been “inverse condemnation” of the area of their property containing the access road.

On the three requests for summary judgment by the Amaros, the judge ruled:

1. In favor of the Amaros, ruling that the existing road easement limits the Land Bank to facilitating the use of the road to access only 180 acres of the total 250 acres in the preserve. In response, the Land Bank has already taken measures to implement this limitation.

2. Reserving final judgment, the judge instructed the parties to instead negotiate an agreement over the Amaros’ demand that the Land Bank remove a split-rail fence it had constructed on its own preserve property to prevent the entry of offroad vehicles from an adjacent third-party property.

3. The final request was ruled moot because the complaint had already been resolved.

It is not known if either party will appeal the Oct. 8 rulings.

Unless the parties reach a settlement beforehand, the remaining alleged violations in the lawsuit will go to trial in 2020.