Seattle 'Autonomous Zone' Sparks Class Action Lawsuit From Local Businesses

The plaintiffs argue that the city's tolerance of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest has resulted in lawlessness and lost business.


More than a dozen businesses and property owners are suing the city of Seattle over its tolerance of, and alleged support for, an "autonomous" protest zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The city's approach, they argue, has led to lawlessness, property damage, and a decline in commerce and property values.

For the past two weeks, anti-police protesters have taken up residence in the city blocks surrounding the Seattle Police Department's abandoned Eastern Precinct building, where they've set up barricades and encampments. This so-called Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP—formerly the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ—has been the site of marches and rallies, but also some arsons, some assaults, and a homicide.

"This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants' message or present a counter-message," reads the lawsuit that several Capitol Hill businesses filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. "Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs…which have been overrun by the City of Seattle's unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood."

Plaintiffs include an autobody shop, a tattoo parlor, a liquor store, a condo association, and the owners of several apartment buildings.

Seattle police abandoned their Eastern Precinct building on June 8, after a series of escalating clashes with protestors. The city's relationship with the protest zone has been touch-and-go ever since.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan initially had fairly friendly words for the autonomous zone, made several visits to the area, and defended it against Twitter attacks from President Donald Trump.

City agencies worked with demonstrators to shift the CHOP's boundaries to allow more traffic to the area. The city also provided the CHOP with concrete barricades, portable toilets, and fire extinguishers.

By assisting CHOP residents in blocking off rights-of-way, the lawsuit argues, the city has prevented them and their customers and vendors from accessing their properties, leading to a decline in business.

One plaintiff, a physical therapy business located inside the CHOP, says that the barricades placed on streets and sidewalks around the zone is preventing disabled clients from reaching their building.

The lawsuit, filed by the law firm Caflo Eakes LLP, also claims that the city's abandonment of the area around the police station, and its failure to respond to 911 calls there, has enabled all manner of nuisances and criminal activity to occur.

Over the past weekend, three people were shot in or near the CHOP, including a 19-year-old who died. Another man was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting someone inside the protest zone.

One plaintiff, the Car Tender autobody shop located just outside the CHOP, said its owner called 911 repeatedly—19 times—to report a burglary and arson at the business but police never showed up. When the owner and his son tried to detain the person they say had broken into their store, protestors from the CHOP stormed the business and insisted they let him go. (The local news outlet KIRO has aired footage of the incident.)

The class action lawsuit claims that the city's failure to provide police and fire service to the CHOP and surrounding areas, while providing the protesters assistance in blocking off roadways, amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property without due process and without just compensation. The suit also claims that by letting protestors occupy streets and set up community gardens in a public park, the City of Seattle has made a gift of public property to private parties, in violation of the "gift clause" in the Washington State constitution.

A number of western states have these gift clauses, which were originally intended to prevent the government from granting privileges to private corporations. It's an irony that private businesses are now invoking the clause to stop Seattle from tolerating a leftist commune.

The lawsuit comes as Durkan and Seattle have been changing their tune on the CHOP. The weekend's shootings have led the mayor to call for the zone to be dismantled, and the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports that protestors are already starting to pull out of the Cal Anderson Park near the precinct building.

The CHOP is far from dismantled, however, and Durkan has issued no timeline for when it will be gone.