Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Petitioner Sammy Weaver was charged with one count of residential burglary under RCW 9A.52.025. In the jury instructions, the parties agreed to include the lesser included offense of criminal trespass in the first degree. At trial, Weaver was found guilty of only the lesser charge of criminal trespass in the first degree. On appeal, Weaver alleged the jury instruction for knowledge conflicted with the instruction for trespass, relieving the State of its burden of proving each element of criminal trespass beyond a reasonable doubt. The Washington Supreme Court found Weaver did not invite the error because he did not propose the instruction to which he assigned error, defining “knowledge.” The Court rejected Weaver’s claim on the merits because the jury instructions, when read as a whole, correctly stated the law and did not relieve the State of its burden to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, Weaver’s judgment of conviction was affirmed. View "Washington v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, petitioner Robert Williams filed a personal restraint petition (PRP) arguing that the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel punishment in violation of the state and federal constitutions. While confined in Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities, Williams asked the Washington Supreme Court to order his sentence be served in home confinement at his sister’s home in Florida until COVID-19 no longer posed a threat to him. The Supreme Court issued an order recognizing that article I, section 14 of the Washington Constitution was more protective than the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution regarding conditions of confinement and that Williams’s then current conditions of confinement were cruel under the state constitution: specifically, the lack of reasonable access to bathroom facilities and running water, as well as DOC’s failure to provide Williams with appropriate assistance in light of his physical disabilities. The Court granted Williams’s PRP and directed DOC to remedy those conditions or to release Williams. DOC later reported that it had complied with this court’s order and had placed Williams in a housing unit designed for assisted living care. Williams was relocated to a single cell with no roommates and a toilet and sink, and was given access to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant restrooms and a readily available medical staff, an assigned wheelchair pusher/therapy aide, and an emergency pendant allowing him to call for assistance. To this, the Supreme Court concluded these actions remedied the unconstitutional conditions and declined to order Williams’s release. By this opinion, the Supreme Court explained its reasoning underlying its grant of Williams' PRP. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Williams" on Justia Law

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This case involves the constitutionality of a business and occupation (B&O) tax. In 2019, the Washington state legislature imposed an additional 1.2 percent B&O tax on financial institutions with a consolidated net income of at least $1 billion. The tax applied to any financial institution meeting this threshold regardless of whether it was physically located in Washington, and it was apportioned to income from Washington business activity. The Washington Supreme Court found that because the tax applied equally to in- and out-of-state institutions and was limited to Washington-related income, it did not discriminate against interstate commerce. The Court therefore reversed the trial court and upheld the constitutionality of the tax. View "Washington Bankers Ass'n v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court was whether a tenant in a fixed-term commercial lease could become a holdover tenant when the tenancy ends pursuant to an early termination provision. The tenant here argued that this unlawful detainer provision applied only when the tenant remained after the end of the original term specified in the lease. To this, the Supreme Court disagreed: in this case, exercising the no-fault early termination provision in the lease revised the term of the lease, and the term expired on the revised termination date. Therefore, the tenant became a holdover tenant under RCW 59.12.030(1) when they continued in possession of the leased premises after that date. View "Spokane Airport Bd. v. Experimental Aircraft Ass'n, Chapter 79" on Justia Law

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In 1995, petitioner Timothy Haag was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for a crime he committed at the age of 17. In 2018, at a Miller-fix resentencing conducted pursuant to RCW 10.95.030, the resentencing court expressly found that “Haag is not irretrievably depraved nor irreparably corrupt.” Yet the court resentenced Haag to a term of 46 years to life; the earliest that he could be released is at the age of 63. Haag sought review by the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erroneously emphasized retribution over mitigation and that his sentence amounted to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. To this, the Supreme Court agreed, holding the resentencing court erred because it gave undue emphasis to retributive factors over mitigating factors. The Court also held Haag’s 46-year minimum term amounts to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Washington v. Haag" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Seven Hills LLC began developing a cannabis production and processing business in Chelan County, Washington. After Seven Hills procured the relevant permits and began building on its property, Chelan County (County) passed Resolution 2015-94, which placed a moratorium on siting new cannabis-related businesses. While the moratorium was in place, Seven Hills received the necessary state licenses and began operating its cannabis production and processing business. Shortly thereafter, the County passed Resolution 2016-14, which changed the relevant ordinances resulting in the barring of new cannabis-related businesses. Seven Hills received a notice and order to abate zoning from the County Department of Community Development, containing four allegations: that Seven Hills had (1) produced and processed cannabis in violation of Resolution 2016-14; (2) constructed and operated unpermitted structures; (3) operated unpermitted propane tanks; and (4) created a public nuisance. A hearing examiner found Seven Hills committed all four violations; the trial court and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court held the County’s resolution declaring a moratorium on siting new cannabis production and processing activities did not amend or replace existing zoning ordinances, and that Seven Hills established a nonconforming use prior to adoption of Resolution 2016-14. Further, the Court held that Resolution 2016-14 did amend the County’s ordinances defining agricultural use, but did not retroactively extinguish vested rights. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was reversed in part and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Seven Hills, LLC v. Chelan County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jessica Vazquez was convicted of maintaining a dwelling for controlled substances, possessing methamphetamine, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Sarah McFadden, Vazquez’s attorney, objected only once during trial, which resulted in the jury considering highly prejudicial, inadmissible evidence. Vazquez claimed the Court of Appeals did not properly evaluate counsel’s performance and that she was denied effective assistance of counsel. After review, the Washington Supreme Court agreed, holding that McFadden’s failure to object to inadmissible evidence fell below the standard for effective performance and that but for McFadden’s lack of objections, there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different. The appellate court was reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Vazquez" on Justia Law

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Lake Hills Investments LLC sued AP Rushforth (AP) for breach of contract, alleging, among other things, that the work AP conducted on the Lake Hills Village project was defective. AP counterclaimed that Lake Hills underpaid them. At trial, an affirmative defense instruction (jury instruction 9) was given, stating that “AP has the burden to prove that Lake Hills provided the plans and specifications for an area of work at issue, that AP followed those plans and specifications, and that the [construction] defect resulted from defects in the plans or specifications. If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that this affirmative defense has been proved for a particular area, then your verdict should be for AP as to that area.” The Court of Appeals held that this instruction understated AP’s burden of proof and allowed the jury to find that if any part of the construction defect resulted from Lake Hills’ plans and specifications, then the jury could find for AP. The court concluded that the error was not harmless, reversed, and remanded for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding that although jury instruction 9 had the potential to mislead the jury, Lake Hills could not show it was prejudiced. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the appellate court to consider issues related to the trial court's award of attorney fees. View "Lake Hills Invs., LLC v. Rushforth Constr. Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit certified several questions of law to the Washington Supreme Court. When the homeowner failed to insure his property, the mortgage servicer purchased insurance to cover the property pursuant to the mortgage agreement - known as “force placed insurance” or “lender placed insurance.” The policy was underwritten by the insurers and passed through a broker to the mortgage servicer. The homeowner claimed that these parties participated in an unlawful kickback scheme that artificially inflated the premiums. In Washington, insurers must generally file their rates and receive approval from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) before selling insurance. Once the rates are filed and approved by the governing agency, the rates were “per se reasonable” and claims that run squarely against these rates had to be dismissed (known as the "filed rate doctrine”). While the filed rate doctrine historically applied to shield entities that file rates, the Washington Court was asked whether the filed rate doctrine also applied to bar suit against intermediaries who did not file rates: the mortgage servicer (Nationstar Mortgage LLC) and broker (Harwood Service Company) who participated in the procurement of the policy from the insurers. If the filed rate doctrine applied to these intermediaries, the Supreme Court was then asked to determine whether damages would be barred under Washington's only case applying the doctrine, McCarthy Fin., Inc. v. Premera, 1347 P.3d 872 (2015). The Washington Supreme Court held that the filed rate doctrine had to also apply to bar suit against intermediaries where awarding damages or other relief would squarely attack the filed rate. In light of this holding, the Court returned the second question pertaining to damages to the Ninth Circuit to first revisit and apply McCarthy to the specific allegations of the appellant-homeonwer's outstanding claims. View "Alpert v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a citizen’s affidavit was sufficient to initiate criminal proceedings under the citizen complaint rule, CrRLJ 2.1(c). Geene Felix was a Washington Department of Social and Health Services social worker who was involved in child welfare matters regarding Thomas Stout’s two children. In 2016, Felix signed two dependency petitions under penalty of perjury, alleging that Stout’s children were dependent. Stout disputed Felix’s factual account in the dependency petitions., alleging that Felix committed the crime of false swearing when she made certain statements in the petitions. The crime of false swearing is a gross misdemeanor with a two-year statute of limitations. In 2018, one day short of two years after Felix filed the dependency petitions, Stout filed an affidavit of complaining witness seeking to institute a citizen complaint against Felix. The court issued a summons notice to Felix, and a probable cause hearing was set for two weeks later. At the December hearing, the court first considered the timeliness issue. Felix argued that a criminal action can be commenced only by the filing of an indictment or complaint, which must be done within the statute of limitations. The court agreed with Felix and ruled that “[a] criminal action is commenced by filing a complaint.” Therefore, because Stout did not file a criminal complaint within the two-year statute of limitations, the court dismissed his citizen complaint as untimely. The court did not reach the merits of the case, and denied reconsideration. He then sought review in the Court of Appeals, and the commissioner denied discretionary review. The Court of Appeals also denied his request to modify the commissioner’s ruling. The Supreme Court commissioner granted discretionary review. The Washington Supreme Court held that under CrRLJ 2.1, criminal proceedings were indeed initiated by the filing of a criminal complaint, and an affidavit under CrRLJ 2.1(c) was only part of the citizen’s request for the court’s approval to file the complaint. Here, the criminal complaint was not filed before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the citizen complaint as untimely. View "In re Citizen Complaint by Stout v. Felix" on Justia Law