Blaine’s attorney responds to suit against city

Published on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The ball is back in the plaintiff’s court after the city attorney for Blaine filed a response to a lawsuit filed in February against the city. The suit alleges city staff improperly handled a public records request submitted by the plaintiffs.

Attorney Richard Stephens, from Bellevue-based law firm Groen, Stephens and Klinge, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Business United, LLC, which consists of Blaine property owner Thomas Bridge and Dale Schrader, owner of the Subway on Marine Drive. The men allege the city should be held responsible for nearly $16,000 in legal fees incurred after they filed a lawsuit to stop the Peace Portal Drive roundabout from being built.

Blaine’s attorney, Jon Sitkin, has asked Whatcom County Superior Court judge Stephen J. Mura to dismiss the lawsuit and to award the city legal costs. Gary Tomsic, Blaine city manager, said the city has been responsive to the public records requests in question.

“[The request] is completed,” Tomsic said.

The suit alleges city staff did not fully comply with a public records request for all city permits relating to the roundabout project filed by Bridge and Schrader on March 24, 2010. City clerk Sheri Sanchez released a number of documents in response to the request, but told Bridge and Schrader no city permits for the roundabout existed. The project was being built by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Bridge and Schrader subsequently filed a complaint and motion in superior court seeking an injunction against WSDOT to halt work on the project until proper permits were obtained. This motion was eventually thrown out, and the roundabout was completed in May 2010.

The lawsuit says city staff sent a document to Bridge on April 20, 2010, that should have been disclosed as part of the original request. The document was a letter from WSDOT describing what the roundabout project entailed, and Steve Banham, the city’s public works director at the time, had signed off on it.

Tomsic said staff came across the letter after Bridge and Schrader filed for an injunction against WSDOT. After being shown the letter, Blaine’s attorney said it should be given to Bridge.

Bridge said he had not wanted to sue the city but only wanted Blaine and WSDOT officials to play by their own rules. He said he would not have tried to stop the roundabout or sue the city if the city had been following its own permitting regulations.
“We didn’t want to sue the city about the roundabout; that wasn’t our goal,” Bridge said.

The city’s response, filed on April 9, denies the plaintiffs’ allegations, which Stephens said was what he expected. He said it should not be difficult to prove their allegations.

“I think that will be relatively easy in our case,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for a defendant to say, ‘I don’t think any of this is true, so prove it.’”

No trial date has been set, and Stephens said he would not speculate on whether the case will go to trial or not. The plaintiffs could file a motion for summary judgement, which is a request for a decision without a trial. If the judge takes this path, the defendants would have four weeks’ notice to make their case, Stephens explained.

“I don’t really know which way this’ll go, but this is not going to be right around the corner,” Stephens said.