Pastor v. Real Prop. Commonly Described, 82262-4-I

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
Writing for the CourtHazelrigg, J.
Citation506 P.3d 658
Parties Paul J. PASTOR, Jr., Pierce County Sheriff, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, v. REAL PROPERTY COMMONLY DESCRIBED AS 713 SW 353RD PLACE, FEDERAL WAY, KING COUNTY, Washington, and all appurtenances and improvements thereon, Defendant In Rem, Interested Party: Mei Xia Huang, Appellant/Cross-Respondent.
Docket Number82262-4-I
Decision Date21 March 2022

506 P.3d 658

Paul J. PASTOR, Jr., Pierce County Sheriff, Respondent/Cross-Appellant,
REAL PROPERTY COMMONLY DESCRIBED AS 713 SW 353RD PLACE, FEDERAL WAY, KING COUNTY, Washington, and all appurtenances and improvements thereon, Defendant In Rem,

Interested Party: Mei Xia Huang, Appellant/Cross-Respondent.

No. 82262-4-I

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1.

FILED March 21, 2022

Billie Renee Morelli, Billie R. Morelli, PLLC, 9805 Sauk Connection Rd, Concrete, WA, 98237-8922, for Appellant/Cross-Respondent.

Daniel Ray Hamilton, Attorney at Law, Prosecutor's Office - Civil Division Pierce County, Pierce County Prosecutor Civil Division, 955 Tacoma Ave. S Ste. 301, Tacoma, WA, 98402-2160, for Respondent/Cross-Appellant.


Hazelrigg, J.

¶ 1 The Pierce County Sheriff moved to seize the Defendant Real Property, commonly described as 713 SW 353rd Place, Federal Way, Washington, after his department served a search warrant there and discovered a sophisticated illegal marijuana grow operation. Mei Xia Huang intervened as an interested party in the civil forfeiture proceedings and claimed ownership of the Defendant Real Property. After Huang backed out of a settlement offer she had proposed, the trial court ultimately granted summary judgment for the Pierce County Sheriff and ordered forfeiture. Huang raises numerous constitutional challenges in her appeal and the Pierce County Sheriff cross-appeals the

506 P.3d 662

trial court's denial of its motion to enforce Huang's settlement agreement under CR 2A. Finding no merit in Huang's various claims, we affirm the summary judgment and forfeiture order. Accordingly, we need not reach the cross-appeal.


¶ 2 Officers from the Pierce County Sheriff Department (PCS) executed a search warrant on May 20, 2019 at the Defendant Real Property in Federal Way, commonly described as 713 SW 353rd Place, where law enforcement discovered that the home there had been converted to support and contain a sophisticated marijuana grow operation. Mei Xia Huang was on the property at the time the warrant was executed and had in her possession $20,400 in cash and her Washington State Identification Card with the address of the Defendant Real Property listed on it.

¶ 3 On June 3, 2019 PCS sent a "Notice of Seizure and Intended Forfeiture" of personal property to Huang by "regular and certified U.S. Mail" at the Defendant Real Property address. On June 8, 2019, Huang responded through her attorney and asserted "ownership of all" the items "seized from our client's residence." On July 25, 2019, PCS commenced an in rem action by filing its "Summons and Notice of Intended Seizure and Forfeiture" and "Complaint of Forfeiture in Rem" and moved "For Issuance of Warrant for Arrest in Rem." PCS filed a lis pendens on the Defendant Real Property on July 30, 2019, naming Huang as "Grantor" whose "right, title and interest is intended to be affected."

¶ 4 On August 9, 2019, the trial court issued a "Warrant of Arrest in Rem Authorizing Seizure of Real Property" and then five days later on August 14, the Warrant, Summons, Complaint, Lis Pendens and other documents were posted "in a conspicuous place" on Defendant Real Property. Two days following the posting of the documents, Huang's attorney entered a notice of appearance on her behalf. A "Declaration of Due Diligence" was filed by PCS on August 22, 2019, which indicated Huang could not be located for purpose of personal service. On September 5, 2019, a PCS deputy went to the Defendant Real Property and, finding no person in possession at that time, taped a copy of the warrant for arrest in rem to the front door.

¶ 5 On September 17, 2019, PCS moved the trial court to authorize service by publication under RCW 4.28.100(6), which was granted the following day. Less than a week later, Huang filed an "Answer and Affirmative Defenses," which argued Huang, as defendant in rem and interested party, had not been served properly under the law. At the end of September, PCS moved to continue the trial date and other litigation deadlines. On October 8th, Huang filed written opposition to the continuance, but it was granted over her objection on October 17, 2019. A little over a week after the continuance was granted, PCS served Huang's counsel with its first set of interrogatories and requests for production, some of which went to Huang's affirmative defense that she had not been properly served under the relevant law. Though a CR 26(i) conference was required due to Huang's repeated delay in responding, she did eventually file her responses on January 10, 2020. However, Huang failed to provide any information regarding her assertions as to lack of service; noting only that she found some of the interrogatories and requests for production that went to such inquiry objectionable.

¶ 6 On January 23, 2020, PCS sought to serve Huang at the California address listed on her vehicle registration. Then in April 2020, PCS moved for summary judgment and order of forfeiture and, on May 1, 2020, moved to compel discovery under CR 37 based on her continued avoidance of her discovery obligations. Two days after Huang responded to PCS’ summary judgment motion, and the day before the hearing on its CR 37 motion1 , Huang made a settlement offer to PCS. The parties then engaged in an exchange of counteroffers over email until Huang made a settlement offer that was acceptable to PCS. PCS clearly communicated its acceptance of Huang's offer to her

506 P.3d 663

counsel via email that same day. The court was advised that an agreed resolution had been reached and PCS moved to strike the hearing on its motion for summary judgment, as well as the trial date. But, less than a week later, Huang reneged on the offer and refused to sign the final settlement agreement prepared by PCS.

¶ 7 In July 2020, PCS moved for summary judgment to enforce the settlement agreement under CR 2A, contract principles, and equitable estoppel. Huang did not dispute the records of her settlement negotiations nor the applicability of equitable estoppel to the issue before the court, but claimed that no contract existed and further asserted that the agreement was unenforceable as an impermissible excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Huang's declaration regarding the matter admitted that she voluntarily authorized her attorney to make the counteroffer, but then acknowledged that after her offer was accepted by PCS, she simply "decided I did not want to do it" and refused to sign.

¶ 8 In August 2020, citing the negotiation emails, the trial court "determine[d] that on June 3, 2020, Plaintiff and interested party Mei Xia Huang entered into a settlement agreement that is binding under contract law and CR 2A," and that the "terms of that agreement are stated in the email sent by [PCS’ counsel] on June 3, 2020, at 4:08 p.m." and "[n]o reasonable fact finder could find that Plaintiff and Huang did not enter into that agreement." But the trial court also denied enforcement of the agreement based on Huang's argument that the agreement violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment and because PCS had not established Huang knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived those rights.

¶ 9 PCS sought discretionary review of that ruling in this court and while that motion was pending here, PCS renoted the hearing in the trial court on its summary judgment motion on the merits which it had previously stricken in light of the settlement agreement. The motion for summary judgment was granted in December 2020 and awarded PCS a final order of forfeiture because "Huang's brief denial of knowledge is thoroughly contradicted by the objective, circumstantial evidence that demonstrates her knowledge" that the property was being used for drug purposes and because she had "not carried her burden to demonstrate an Eighth Amendment violation."

¶ 10 Huang timely appealed.


I. Overview of Jurisdiction

¶ 11 We begin our analysis with a cursory overview of types of jurisdiction in light of the framing of some of Huang's challenges on appeal and the parties’ conflation of terminology in briefing. " ‘Jurisdiction is the power and authority of the court to act.’ " ZDI Gaming Inc. v. State ex rel. Wash. State Gambling Comm'n, 173 Wash.2d 608, 617, 268 P.3d 929 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Dougherty v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 150 Wash.2d 310, 315, 76 P.3d 1183 (2003) ).

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

¶ 12 Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear and decide the type of controversy at issue. Banowsky v. Guy Backstrom, DC, 193 Wash.2d 724, 731, 445 P.3d 543 (2019). If a tribunal lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the implication is that it does not have authority to decide the claim at all or order any type of relief. Id.

Because the absence of subject matter jurisdiction is a defense that can never be waived, judgments entered by courts acting without subject matter jurisdiction must be vacated even if neither party initially objected to the court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction and even if the controversy was settled years prior.

In re Marriage of McDermott, 175 Wash. App. 467, 479, 307 P.3d 717 (2013). When a court acts without subject matter jurisdiction the consequences of...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT