Judge postpones Washington case claiming city retaliation

February 10, 2020 GMT

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge in Washington state postponed a lawsuit claiming city officials retaliated against a business owner for opposing a proposed downtown plaza.

Mark Peterson sued the city for violations of his constitutional rights, as well as malicious prosecution and conspiracy, The Yakima Herald reports.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled last week that the trial scheduled for March would remain on hold while Yakima Fire Code Inspector Tony Doan and former Deputy Fire Chief Mark Sopitch appeal a ruling denying them qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits concerning actions taken as part of their official duties.

Peterson’s lawsuit against the city, Doan, Sopitch, and former City Manager Tony O’Rourke said his H&H Furniture business was subjected to a fire code inspection days after he spoke against a downtown master plan.

The inspection found Peterson’s basement showroom violated fire safety codes and he was ordered to make improvements within 90 days.

Peterson’s lawsuit claimed the inspection violated his First Amendment guarantee of free speech, his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure and his Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Yakima officials sought to have the case dropped on grounds that the officials were immune from lawsuits while discharging their duties.

The judge found there was enough evidence of interference with Peterson’s free speech rights and his claims of malicious prosecution and conspiracy to take the case to trial.

The trial has been tentatively rescheduled for September.