Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The United States Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. Cox Construction was the general contractor of a remodeling project. Cox hired Baker & Son Construction, Inc. as a subcontractor. A Baker employee allegedly caused a two-by-four to fall from a railing and strike Ronnie Cox, owner of Cox Construction, who later died from his injury. Baker allegedly called an insurance agent to alert them of the incident. The agent told Baker that no action needed to be taken because at that time, no claim existed. A few months later, Baker received a wrongful death claim from an attorney representing Cox’s widow. Baker notified its insurer, Preferred Contractors Insurance Company (PCIC) of the claim. PCIC denied coverage, but agreed to defend Baker under a reservation of rights. The certified question to the Washington Supreme Court related to the “claims-made” nature of the policy and the timing of Baker’s tender of Ms. Cox’s claim. The Supreme Court replied to the certified question that in light of RCW 18.27, a contractor’s commercial general liability insurance policy that requires the loss to occur and be reported within the same policy year, and provides neither neither prospective nor retroactive coverage violates Washington’s public policy. View "Preferred Contractors Ins. Co. v. Baker & Son Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Antoine Davis was 21 when he was convicted of first degree murder and second degree attempted murder. He received a standard range sentence of 767 months. Davis filed this personal restraint petition (PRP) more than one year after his judgment and sentence finalized, contending it was. timely for two reasons: (1) In re Personal Restraint of Monschke, 482 P.3d 276 (2021) constituted a significant, material, and retroactive change in law that applied to his de facto life sentence; and (2) recent advances in neuroscience for late-aged adolescents qualified as newly discovered evidence. The Washington Supreme Court found: (1) Monschke applied to 19- and 20-year-old defendants; and (2) Davis did not satisfy any of the statutory criteria that exempted his petition from the one-year time bar. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Davis" on Justia Law

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A child was taken from his mother after she brought him to the hospital. Hospital staff found the child had serious injuries. The father, who lived separately from the mother, asked that the child be placed with him. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family recommended out-of-home placement, citing concern for the child’s safety. A court determined the child should have been placed with his godparents, based on the Department’s recommendation. The father moved for discretionary review of the shelter care order, arguing the court erred because the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal from a parent. The Court of Appeals denied review, and a panel of the court declined to modify its ruling. The father than moved for discretionary review by the Oregon Supreme Court, which was granted. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court became moot, as the father ultimately agreed to an order of dependency in a subsequent hearing. The Supreme Court still opined on what “reasonable efforts” the Department had to make before a child could be removed for a parent or guardian’s care. The Department argued (and the trial court agreed) that given the acute and emergent circumstances of the case, it did not violate the reasonable efforts requirement. The father argued there was no such exception for emergent circumstances. The Supreme Court provided additional guidance as to what constituted reasonable efforts, and here, held the trial court erred in excusing the Department from making reasonable efforts to place the child with the father. View "In re Dependency of L.C.S." on Justia Law

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In February 2016, three-month-old A.K., daughter of respondents Michelle Desmet and Sandro Kasco, was taken into protective custody after she suffered a spiral fracture to her left femur. When the parents could not explain the injury, A.K. was placed with her paternal aunt for six months while the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) initiated an investigation. By August, A.K. was returned to her parents and a dependency action was dismissed. In August 2018, the parents sued the DSHS (the State) for negligent investigation, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and invasion of privacy by false light (false light) based on the Department’s allegedly harmful investigation and issuance of a letter indicating that allegations of child abuse/neglect against Desmet were founded (the founded letter). The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from suit under RCW 4.24.595(2) because its actions in A.K.’s dependency proceedings were taken pursuant to the juvenile court’s order to place A.K. with her aunt. The trial court denied summary judgment and entered a final order finding that no immunity applied. The Department appealed on the immunity issue, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Department claimed on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals’ decision rendered RCW 4.24.595(2) meaningless and that the court erroneously refused to consider the legislative history of RCW 4.24.595(2), which, in the Department’s view, was enacted to bar claims like those brought by the parents. The Supreme Court found the unambiguous text of RCW 4.24.595(2) did not grant the Department immunity for all actions in an investigation of child abuse/neglect that might coincide with a court order in related dependency proceedings. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Desmet v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cristian Lupastean was convicted by a jury of driving while license suspended (DWLS), driving a commercial vehicle without a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL), and reckless driving. He sought a new trial because one of the seated jurors failed to disclose information that was requested in voir dire. Lupastean contended the nondisclosure impaired his ability to intelligently exercise peremptory challenges and showed that the juror had actual and implied bias. After a review of the controlling Washington case law with respect to peremptory challenges in jury trials, the Supreme Court held that a motion for a mistrial or new trial may not be granted solely because undisclosed information about a juror might have triggered a peremptory challenge. "Instead, juror nondisclosure must be treated similarly to other nonconstitutional errors that require a new trial only on an affirmative showing of prejudice. Such a showing may be made if the moving party shows that the undisclosed information would have supported a valid challenge for cause or that the nondisclosure was otherwise prejudicial to the moving party’s right to a fair trial." The Court found Lupastean did not make the necessary showing here. The Court therefore affirmed his convictions. View "Washington v. Lupastean" on Justia Law

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When Petitioner Andrew Kennedy was 19 years old, he killed his cousin’s 11-month-old daughter while she was in his care. Following a bench trial in 2007, the court convicted Kennedy of homicide by abuse and sentenced him to 380 months in confinement. Kennedy’s judgment and sentence became final after direct appeal in 2009. In 2019, he filed this personal restraint petition (PRP) seeking to be resentenced based on “[n]ewly discovered evidence.” Kennedy argued that advancements in the scientific understanding of adolescent brain development for young adults since his 2007 sentencing would have probably changed the trial court’s discretionary sentencing decision by allowing him to argue for a mitigated sentence based on youthfulness. The Court of Appeals dismissed Kennedy’s PRP as time barred, concluding that scientific evidence supporting such an argument for young adults Kennedy’s age was available at the time of sentencing. After the Washington Supreme Court granted Kennedy’s motion for discretionary review, he raised a second argument for relief based on the “significant change in the law” exemption to the time bar. The Supreme Court found Kennedy's PRP meet neither exemption to the time bar. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Kennedy" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court exercised discretionary interlocutory review in this case primarily to decide whether the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) required the State to take active efforts to prevent the breakup of J.M.W.’s family before taking him into emergency foster care. Consistent with the plain text and purpose of WICWA, the Supreme Court concluded that it did. The Court also concluded the trial court was required to make a finding on the record at the interim shelter care hearing that J.M.W.’s out of home placement was necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm. The matter was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re Dependency of J.M.W." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the Department of Natural Resources' ("DNR") land management strategies applicable to certain federal land grants (“state lands”) and county land grants (“forest board lands”), which involves harvesting timber from these lands to generate revenue for state institutions and counties. The petitioners, a group of individuals and nonprofit organizations (collectively Conservation NW), challenged DNR’s land management strategies on the grounds they violated the mandate under Washington Constitution article XVI, section 1 that “[a]ll the public lands granted to the state are held in trust for all the people.” Conservation NW argued DNR’s strategies prioritized maximizing revenue from timber harvests and undercut its obligation to manage granted lands for the broader public interest, which would have been better served by prioritizing conservation and efforts to mitigate climate change, wildfires, and land erosion. DNR contended it had a trustee obligation to manage the state and forest board lands specifically for the state institutions enumerated in the Enabling Act and the county beneficiaries. DNR acknowledged its land management strategies generated revenue but not “at the expense of forest health.” The trial court dismissed Conservation NW’s lawsuit against DNR pursuant to County of Skamania v. Washington, 685 P.2d 576 (1984), establishing DNR as a trustee under the Enabling Act. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case. View "Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands" on Justia Law

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A trial court granted petitioner Mary Walker’s motion to dismiss with prejudice based on a violation of CrR 3.3. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that Walker waived the right to object to the trial date because, according to that court, defense counsel knew at the time of trial setting that the trial date set was untimely and failed to advise the trial court of the known time-for-trial violation. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court in result, but for differing reasons, finding Walker lost the right to object to the untimely trial date under CrR 3.3(d)(3) because the trial date was set before the time-for-trial period expired, but she failed to raise an objection until after the time-for-trial deadline expired. View "Washington v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lance Thomason attempted to steal about $15 worth of meat and cheese from Yoke’s Fresh Market in Spokane and fought with a security guard on his way out. A jury convicted him of second degree robbery, and the trial court imposed a 63-month sentence—a sentence at the bottom of the standard sentence range. Thomason appealed, arguing that the “de minimis” nature of his crime, especially his supposedly minimal use of force, justified an exceptional sentence below the standard range. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court concluded that under RCW 9.94A.535(1), the de minimis nature of a crime could constitute a substantial and compelling factor that supported an exceptional sentence below the standard range, in the appropriate case. An appropriate case was one in which (1) the legislature did not consider the mitigating factor already when it listed the elements of the crime or set the standard sentence range and (2) the factor constitutes a substantial and compelling reason to depart below the range. The Supreme Court concluded Thomason failed to satisfy the statute's criteria. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Thomason" on Justia Law