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Judge tosses out suit against Suquamish Tribe

TACOMA — On April 17 a U.S. District judge in Tacoma dismissed a case filed by property owners.

The Association of Property Owners/Residents of Port Madison Area (APORTMA) filed the suit last year claiming they were threatened with illegal regulations without representation and were threatened by land development that was improperly exempt from local and state regulations. The property owners had claimed the Suquamish Tribal Council overstepped its authority and that the tribe’s original reservation boundaries had been diminished.

Judge Franklin Burgess dismissed the case without prejudice and concluded that a concrete injury was not fairly traceable to actions of the tribe and that the plaintiffs failed to establish their standing to sue.

“Plaintiff’s claimed injuries are too conjectural, and too dependent on actions of third parties not before the court to support the existence of an actual case or controversy,” the judge stated in his ruling.

APORTMA members said the decision is a stumbling block in the case, not the end of it.

“This is not the end of the story,” said APORTMA president Cindy Rasmussen.

The group plans to meet with its attorney this week to discuss how they are going to proceed, Rasmussen said,

“We have options. This is not the end of the road,” she said.

Tribe officials said Tuesday they have yet to see a copy of the decision.

APORTMA had the burden of proving an actual injury, not a hypothetical one, Judge Burgess stated. There was no evidence brought to the case that the Tribal Council exercised jurisdiction over APORTMA members or their property.

“As a matter of law, it is simply not the case that a whole lot of nothing necessarily amounts to something,” Burgess said. He added that the plaintiffs had to show there was a realistic danger and at least one tribal law was enforced against them, which they did not do. A few traffic tickets from Suquamish Police and consensual property searches were not enough to support the claim, according to Burgess.

As far as “illegal assertion” over land that is earmarked for a tribal housing development, the judge said not enough hard facts were brought forth.

Because APORTMA has not suffered direct harm and did not include the county and state as parties in the suit the “illegal recognition” of the tribe’s jurisdiction over the 22-home project is at this point unfounded, according to Burgess.

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