Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 26, 2019

Fed. Dist Court of WA Rejects Claim for Damages Premised on Future Expansions of Detention Facility Being More Expensive Under City’s Zoning Law Change

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

GEO owned and operated the Northwest Detention Center (“NWDC”), a 120,000 square foot private detention facility on the Tacoma tide flats, pursuant to a contract with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (“ICE”). NWDC opened in 2004. When it was constructed the NWDC was permitted outright under Tacoma’s Municipal Zoning Code. Since that time, the NWDC had been upgraded or expanded several times, most recently in 2011. In 2017 the Tacoma City Council passed an Interim Emergency Ordinance, which allegedly banned private correctional facilities in Tacoma, and permitted public correctional facilities only with a Conditional Use Permit. The Ordinance was adopted in 2018, and GEO sued one month later, arguing that the politically-motivated zoning law change was unconstitutional. The City then moved for summary judgment on the GEO’s §1983 damages claim.

GEO claimed that its damages will be incurred when, and if, it actually takes steps to improve or expand its facility, and that its damages will multiply as the project proceeds. The City contended that GEO was expressly relying on its allegations, rather than evidence, in support of its claim that the zoning change would make any expansion more expensive. The court held GEO’s damages claim, stemming from a permit it had not yet applied for, and that was not the subject of any final decision, was not recoverable.

GEO’s primary claim was that the Ordinance is unconstitutional, and its primary claim for relief was a Declaration that the City could not enforce the Ordinance against GEO and a permanent injunction. The court found that should GEO prevail on this claim, it would not have to process any future expansion under the new Ordinance, and would therefore never incur the additional costs associated with doing so. Accordingly, the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment on GEO’s §1983 damages claim was granted and that claim was dismissed with prejudice.

The GEO Group Inc. v. City of Tacoma,  2019 WL 2766722 (WD WA 7/2/2019)

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