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Paul follows through with suit against Sunnyside

Lawyers for the city of Sunnyside and Prosser contractor Tom Paul agreed to disagree last week, filing an agreed preliminary injunction and scheduling order in Yakima County Superior Court.

The injunction is part of a quiet title action Paul's attorney, J.J. Sandlin, filed against the city due to a long standing boundary dispute.

Paul contends that city right-of-way extends 15 feet from the center of South First Street, which his property borders.

The city contends the right-of-way is 30 feet and has twice acted on that alleged right-of-way in removing Paul's signs and fence posts erected in the disputed area.

Last Thursday, April 6, Sandlin filed the quiet title action to have a Superior Court judge decide the boundary once and for all.

The action was welcomed by the city of Sunnyside, said City Attorney Mark Kunkler.

"We answered the last effort by Mr. Paul with just that response," Kunkler said of Paul's initial plan to re-open a suit against the city filed last year. "The proper remedy is not to open an old case, but the issue is a quiet title. We actually welcome it."

Kunkler claimed the city had actually been considering filing a quiet title action, prior to Sandlin and Paul filing the action last week. "It's good," he said of the quiet action. "Ultimately it will get us before a judge and give us some finality."

Sandlin saw it differently, claiming the city knew its case for a 15 foot right-of-way had weaknesses and so agreed to the preliminary injunction.

Under that agreement, the city pledges not to remove any of Paul's signs from the land in question. As a result, the political billboard will remain, greeting motorists entering and leaving Sunnyside via South First Street.

At the same time, both Paul and the city agree that Sunnyside officials can enforce the city's sign ordinance on other areas of his property.

"We wanted to clarify that this preliminary injunction would not hinder us from enforcing our sign ordinance," said Kunkler. "It freezes the situation, but does allow the city to work with Mr. Paul in terms of bringing all the other signs into compliance."

"We're probably going to win this thing," Sandlin said. "Now they're adjoined (to the injunction) and they can't mess with us anymore."

Kunkler pointed out that the agreement remains in place only until a judge has settled the boundary dispute. He also noted that under the agreement Paul is not to put up any more signs.

The city of Sunnyside, and the lawyers it has contracted with through the Seattle firm of Preston, Gates and Ellis, now have 20 days to respond.

Kunkler said work is already in progress in filing a response with the county Superior Court.

Sandlin added that he and Paul will make changes to the original injunction and quiet title action filed last week.

City Manager Bob Stockwell, City Code Enforcement Officer Mike Storm and up to 20 city officials were listed on the original documents filed April 6.

Sandlin said all names of city officials will be removed from the original filing since the injunction is against the city.

The same cannot be said for a damage suit Sandlin said will be filed this week.

Sandlin said work is wrapping up on a suit for damages totaling in excess of $1 million. He did not have a firm dollar amount of damages available, and could not state which city individuals will be listed on the suit.

"It is substantial, well over $1 million," Sandlin said of the tally that he claimed will be sought for damages.

Sunnyside will have up to 60 days to respond to the claim, if it is filed.

"The claim will recite all of the facts that have led us to this point," Sandlin said of the suit seeking damages.

Kunkler said the city is covered for about $13 million in liability insurance through its insurer, Canfield and Associates. Since Paul and Sandlin did not file a suit for damages prior to filing the injunction, Kunkler said he would be surprised if damages were sought.

"It's unfortunate for everybody," Sandlin said of the legal battle between Sunnyside and Paul, which escalated after the city council by a vote of 4-3 overturned Paul's conditional use permit for the signs last November. "The city council had a chance to put the fire out, but instead they just fanned the flames."

During that meeting, council members first expressed a desire for Kunkler and Sandlin to negotiate a truce. After encouragement from Stockwell for a yes or no vote, council then made its split decision.

Kunkler said negotiations with Sandlin and Paul are still possible.

"In every case I've been involved in there's always room for negotiating," said Kunkler, who has practiced law for 20 years. "Sometimes cases go all the way through the trial and settle before the jury comes back with a decision."

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