By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.
In a significant judgment against the City of SeaTac, Washington in a property rights case a King County Superior Court judge awarded Gerry and Kathy Kingen $18.3 million after what the court described as “a pattern of deception that lasted years.”
The trouble for the couple began in 2003 when they purchased land in the vicinity of Sea-Tac Airport with the intent to develop the land into a Park-and-Fly garage. Immediately after bringing notice to the city of their plans the city council declared a moratorium on the construction of these garages and engaged in tactics to hinder the couple’s investment until, according to court documents, they were forced under duress to sell the property to a “phantom buyer” who was later determined to be a surrogate for the city.
After learning of the surrogate buyer, the Kingens decided to pursue legal action against the city.
The couple and their development company filed a lawsuit in 2012. After a three-week trial the jury awarded the pair $9.6 million in damages. The judge added to the award by increasing the damages to include attorney fees and interest, bringing the total to $18.3 million.
The Kingens stated the ordeal was very costly in terms not only financial in nature but personal.
They robbed us of our lives, literally it became all-consuming for a long period of time.”
To add to the city’s troubles the Court concluded that the City also violated the Public Records Act which attracted the attention of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, an NGO that has sued government agencies for such violations. Coalition President Toby Nixon stated: “They tried to sneak around in the shadows and tried to take the property in an inappropriate way. You have to do it in the right way, you have to do it openly and [in an] accountable way that builds trust, that holds public trust and not abuse the trust.”
Of course, the City appealed the judgment. But there are many other forms of justice that likely will rain down. The City’s insurance carrier fled paperwork with the court countering that it is not mandated to indemnify the City since the court found that there was deception involved on the part of city officials.
Surely the matter will continue for years to come given the past behavior by the City. But it is a victory for property rights nonetheless.
By Darren Smith
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