Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Cecil Davis was sentenced to death for brutally murdering Yoshiko Couch. Davis raped, robbed, and killed 65-year-old Couch in her home in 1997. His direct appeal was unsuccessful. He challenged his death sentence in a personal restraint petition, arguing Washington's death penalty system unconstitutionally fails to protect defendants with intellectual disabilities from execution. He also argued the death penalty system was unconstitutional because it did not require a jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a defendant facing the death penalty did not have an intellectual disability. He also argued he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Finding his arguments unpersuasive, the Washington Supreme Court dismissed the petition. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Davis" on Justia Law

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The issue central to this appeal was whether Michael Rhem adequately raised an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim by including in his pro se reply brief, "Rhem would also request that this Court consider sua [s]ponte the ineffective appellate argument that the State broaches in their response. Or allow additional briefing." The Court of Appeals determined, among other things: (1) Rhem did not adequately raise an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim; (2) he did not demonstrate actual and substantial prejudice in supporting his claim of a violation of the right to a public trial; and (3) he did not timely raise a federal public trial right violation. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court’s judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Rhem" on Justia Law

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In alternative means cases where substantial evidence supported both alternatives submitted to the jury, jury unanimity as to the means is not required. In this case, Dennis Armstrong petitioned the Washington Supreme Court to reverse his felony domestic violence conviction for violating a court order because the trial court instructed the jury that it need not be unanimous as to which of the two means it relied on, so long as it was unanimous as to the conviction. Because that is a correct statement of the law, the Supreme Court found no reversible error. However, Armstrong further contended police violated his right to due process because they did not retrieve certain video surveillance tapes. The Court found Armstrong did not show the required bad faith. Thus, the Court affirmed Armstrong’s due process claim failed. View "Washington v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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This case presented a question of whether the then-current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the State of Washington and Services Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW (SEIU) included a union security provision statutorily authorized under chapter 41.56 RCW. The trial court held that the CBA contained an authorized union security provision and dismissed the lawsuit. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thorpe v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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Fabian Arredondo appealed his accomplice liability convictions of one count of second degree murder and three counts of first degree assault. A jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Arredondo, a gang member, drove a vehicle from which his cousin and fellow member, Rudy Madrigal, fired gunshots into a vehicle occupied by alleged rival gang members. One shot struck the driver, Ladislado Avila, in the head, and he later died at the hospital as a result of his gunshot wound. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to address two issues: (1) the trial court allowed the State to introduce ER 404(b) evidence linking Arredondo to an uncharged 2009 drive-by shooting; and (2) the trial court barred Arredondo from cross-examining the State's key witness, Maurice Simon, about Simon's past mental health diagnoses, as well as past alcohol and drug use. Simon would later testify that Arredondo admitted his role in the shooting to him while they shared a jail cell. In neither instance did the Supreme Court find the trial court committed reversible error. View "Washington v. Arredondo" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed precedent that a trial court must consider whether such joinder will result in undue prejudice to the defendant. If it will, joinder is not permissible. The State charged Charles Bluford with one count of first degree robbery and one count of indecent liberties. The State later charged Bluford in a separate information with five more first degree robberies involving five new victims. Before trial, the State moved to join the two robberies accompanied by sexual offenses to the other five robberies, while Bluford moved to sever the five robberies from each other. The Court of Appeals held: (1) the trial court properly allowed joinder; (2) Bluford did not invite the trial court to erroneously deny his request for a lesser-included offense instruction on the indecent liberties charge; and (3) the State had not proved Bluford's prior New Jersey conviction for second degree robbery was factually or legally comparable to a most serious offense in Washington, so Bluford's persistent offender sentence was erroneously imposed. The Washington Supreme Court overruled certain Court of Appeals opinions that have departed from precedent, reversed Bluford's convictions, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Bluford" on Justia Law

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The sole issue in this case was whether advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) were per se disqualified from testifying on proximate cause in a medical negligence case. The Washington Supreme Court held that ARNPs may be qualified to testify regarding causation in a medical malpractice case if the trial court determines that the ARNP meets the threshold requirements of ER 702. The ability to independently diagnose and prescribe treatment for a particular malady was strong evidence that the expert might be qualified to discuss the cause of that same malady. The Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC" on Justia Law

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The principal issue in this case was whether taxpayers could bring federal or state tort claims to challenge tax assessments, or instead must rely on the normal state tax appeals process. The taxpayers here are trucking companies that were assessed unemployment taxes after the Washington State Employment Security Department audited and reclassified their employment relationship with owner-operators who owned and leased out their own trucking equipment. The trucking companies, joined by their trade organization, Washington Trucking Associations, brought this suit asserting a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and a state common law claim for tortious interference with business expectancies. The superior court dismissed the suit, holding that the trucking companies must challenge the tax assessments through the state tax appeals process. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that the comity principle precluded the section 1983 claim only "to the extent that [Washington Trucking Associations] and the [trucking companies] seek damages based on the amounts of the assessments, but not to the extent that they seek damages independent of the assessment amounts." The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the superior court's dismissal of both the federal and state claims. View "Wash. Trucking Ass'ns v. Emp't Sec. Dep't" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the applicability of a broad, absolute insurance pollution exclusion clause to a claim based on negligent installation of a hot water heater that led to the release of toxic levels of carbon monoxide in a residential home. Zhaoyun "Julia" Xia purchased a new home constructed by Issaquah Highlands 48 LLC. Issaquah Highlands carried a policy of commercial general liability insurance through ProBuilders. Soon after moving into her home, Xia began to feel ill. A service technician from Puget Sound Energy investigated Xia's home and discovered that an exhaust vent attached to the hot water heater had not been installed correctly and was discharging carbon monoxide directly into the confines of the basement room. The claims administrator for ProBuilders, NationsBuilders Insurance Services Inc. (NBIS), mailed a letter to Xia indicating that coverage was not available under the Issaquah Highlands policy. As a basis for its declination of coverage, NBIS rested on two exclusions under the policy: a pollution exclusion and a townhouse exclusion. NBIS refused to either defend or indemnify Issaquah Highlands for Xia's loss. When a nonpolluting event that was a covered occurrence causes toxic pollution to be released, resulting in damages, the Washington Supreme Court believed the only principled way for determining whether the damages are covered or not was to undertake an efficient proximate cause analysis. Under the facts presented here, the Court found ProBuilders Specialty Insurance Co. correctly identified the existence of an excluded polluting occurrence under the unambiguous language of its policy. However, it ignored the existence of a covered occurrence negligent installation-that was the efficient proximate cause of the claimed loss. Accordingly, coverage for this loss existed under the policy, and ProBuilders's refusal to defend its insured was in bad faith. View "Xia v. Probuilders Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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David Woodlyn cashed a series of blank checks written by Dora Kjellerson, an elderly woman suffering from dementia. The State charged Woodlyn with theft in the second degree, an alternative means crime. The jury's "to convict" instruction required the jury to unanimously agree on Woodlyn's guilt-but not on how he committed the crime. The jury returned a general verdict of guilty. Woodlyn appealed, arguing the general verdict violated his right to jury unanimity under article I, section 21 of the Washington constitution insofar as the evidence was insufficient to support conviction under the "wrongfully obtained" alternative. The Court of Appeals agreed that the evidence of this means was insufficient, but nonetheless affirmed, holding that any error was harmless. The court reasoned that the absence of evidence of the theft by taking alternative reasonably showed that the jury's verdict rested on the theft by deception alternative. The Washington Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeals reasoning, finding the State failed to support one or more alternative means did not establish that the jury relied unanimously on another, supported alternative. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in result because it concluded the evidence before the jury was sufficient to support both alternative means of second degree theft. View "Washington v. Woodlyn" on Justia Law