Businesses Sue Seattle Over 2020 Protest Response

By Quinn Wilson | June 8, 2023, 6:42 PM EDT ·

A Seattle-based ice cream chain and a property owner sued the city in federal court this week, accusing officials of encouraging and condoning a protest zone in 2020 that shut down parts of the business's neighborhood, which they say resulted in lost revenue and an illegal taking by the local government.

Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream LLC sued Seattle on Tuesday, alleging in a complaint the city violated business' 14th Amendment right when they were stripped of due process and had their revenue taken during June 2020, when protesters organized the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, also known as CHOP. Hugo Properties LLC, which owns and operates a commercial and residential property in the protest zone, accused Seattle of similar 14th Amendment violations, as well as negligence and creating a nuisance, in its own complaint, also filed Tuesday.

Alternatively known as the Capitol Hill Antonymous Zone, or CHAZ, the area containing the ice cream shop was occupied by protesters from June 8 to July 1, 2020.

While the businesses say they do not take issue with the protesters' right to express their free speech, they took issue with the city's decisions that allowed the businesses' constitutional rights to be "overrun," according to both complaints. The businesses are seeking judgments in their favor for actual damages, prejudgment interests and court fees.

"The city's decision subjected businesses, employees, and residents of that neighborhood to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties," the complaints say.

Molly Moon's, located at 917 E. Pine St., Seattle, had to shutter its doors for at least two days while the neighborhood was occupied, and had to close early on multiple occasions because of safety concerns, according to its complaint. The shop was also across the street from Cal Anderson Park, which served as the primary gathering space where protesters lived and operated out of tents.

The ice cream shop also told the court the protest zone created makeshift barriers that prevented customers, employees and deliveries from reaching the business.

Hugo Properties, which owns a property at the corner of 11th Avenue and Olive Street in the protest zone, says the barriers prevented residents and employees of its building from reaching it at times. The property owner alleged in its lawsuit that it had many tenants break their leases as a result of the protest zone.

"Plaintiff also had to provide numerous breaks on rent to residential and commercial tenants to both recognize the conditions outside the building and attempt to retain as many tenants as it could," according to the filing. "Plaintiff's commercial tenant, Korean restaurant Oma Bap, suffered significantly decreased revenue and profits, and as a result plaintiff had to make extensive rent concessions to Oma Bap until it recovered."

The property owner estimates it suffered at least $85,000 in damage as a result of the protests.

The ice cream shop said Wednesday that many local residents left Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood as a result of the protest, further decreasing its revenue. The lost revenue created a further strain on the chain, as it was already financially struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its complaint.

"Molly Moon's operates several ice cream shops in the greater Seattle area, and while all of them were affected somewhat by COVID-19, Molly Moon's Capitol Hill shop's profits declined at a rate more rapid than the average of other comparable locations," the ice cream business said in its complaint.

The shop also had to board up its windows out of fear of property damage that had struck other businesses in the neighborhood, the filing continues. Many businesses also sustained graffiti painted by the protesters, and were threatened when the graffiti was removed or covered up, the ice cream shop told the court.

In addition to the property damage in the protest zone, two people were killed in a shooting, leaving a teenager injured, and various other shootings and violent crimes took place, the complaints say. The businesses contend that by condoning the protest zone and pulling emergency response from the area, Seattle deprived victims of non-violent crimes of emergency services.

"Under this policy, felonies that did not endanger significant numbers of lives, such as rape, kidnapping, and assaults not involving weapons, were deemed unworthy of an in-person response," Molly Moon's said in its complaint. "Anyone wishing to report such a crime would have to leave the area that the [Seattle Police Department] felt was too dangerous to send its officers into."

The protesters' occupation of the neighborhood began after Seattle police officers abandoned a precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, according to the suits.

Neither party could be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

The businesses are represented by Angelo J. Calfo, Patricia A. Eakes, Tyler S. Weaver and Gabriel Reilly-Bates of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

Counsel information for the city was not immediately available.

The cases are Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream LLC v. City of Seattle, case number 2:23-cv-00859, and Hugo Properties LLC v. City of Seattle, case number 2:23-cv-00858, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

--Editing by Covey Son.

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