Montgomery wins again: Skagit County judge nixes summary judgment bid for second time, case heads to trial

Greenbank property owner Bruce Montgomery poses for a picture on a wall at the end of Wonn Road. The wall has been a source of controversy and legal dispute for years. A judge recently denied a second request to end a lawsuit

A dispute over public beach access in Greenback will likely go to trial in October.

Skagit County Superior Court Judge Laura Riquelme denied Island County’s motion for summary judgment in its lawsuit against Greenbank residents Bruce and Joanne Montgomery. County officials asked the judge to end the three years of litigation and find that a disputed beach property at the end of Wonn Road belongs to the public.

It was the second time that a judge has denied the county’s motion for summary judgment.

During a hearing in July, Island County prosecutors argued that a 1944 plat by property owner W. James Pratt was unambiguous and gave Wonn Road and the tidelands at its end to Island County.

Attorneys representing the Montgomerys and neighboring property owners argued that the facts are far from clear and that a 1955 easement by Pratt shows that his intention was not to convey the tidelands to the county.

Riquelme found that questions of material fact exist which cannot be resolved in summary judgment.

“It is telling that the meaning of this plat has been disputed for over 40 years,” she wrote. “That so many declarations need to be filed to support what should be clear on the face of the plat is also indicative of the murkiness of the platter’s intent. The plat is unclear on its face.”

On the other hand, Riquelme denied Montgomery’s motion to dismiss claims by the group Island Beach Access for lack of standing. The group is an intervenor in the case on the county’s side and will be able to continue as such.

In an interview this week, Montgomery said they were pleased with the decision and is confident he will win at trial, but it’s been a long and costly fight for the couple. He said he’s spent about $700,000 in legal fees, which he said could have been avoided if the commissioners approved a settlement which would have returned the access to the public at a point in the future.

Members of Island Beach Access and others argued against the settlement, and the commissioners turned it down in a 2-1 vote. Montgomery points out that a volunteer attorney for the group claimed the case was a “slam dunk” win for the county; he said the judge’s decision proves the attorney wrong.

Commissioner Jill Johnson, who voted in favor of the settlement, said she was hopeful that the summary judgment would have gone the county’s way, but that the denial wasn’t a shock. She said she’s not aware of any renewed discussion about a settlement and looks forward to the trial.

The disagreement about the beach access began in 2008 when the Montgomerys built a low wall between two homes they own at the end of Wonn Road, blocking public beach access; they claimed its location was on their property. The county sued in March of 2013 to remove the wall.

The trial is scheduled for Oct. 11.