Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Tyler Bagby was convicted of residential burglary, fourth degree assault, and harassment. At his trial, the prosecutor repeatedly asked witnesses to identify Bagby by his “nationality.” All the witnesses responded by identifying Bagby as either Black or African-American. Bagby was born in the United States; he was an American citizen; and his race, ethnicity, and identity were not at issue in this case. The Washington Supreme Court granted review to address whether the prosecutor’s repeated use of the word “nationality,” among other statements, to distinguish a defendant from other witnesses evoked racial bias in a manner that constituted prosecutorial misconduct and prejudiced the trial. The Court held that it did. "Because the race-based misconduct was so flagrant and ill intentioned that a timely objection and jury instruction could not have cured resulting prejudice, the errors are per se prejudicial, warranting reversal." View "Washington v. Bagby" on Justia Law

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Brandon Ducharme appealed a trial court’s finding that the four charges in his recall petition against Washington Governor Jay Inslee were factually and legally insufficient. Ducharme's allegations against the governor fell into two general groups: (1) charges alleging the misuse of vetoes to legislation that occurred in 2019; (2) allegations relating to the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington state. After granting Ducharme’s motion for accelerated review, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order affirming the trial court’s ruling. The Court explained that Ducharme did not show that Governor Inslee intended to violate the law in connection with any of the recall charges. Furthermore, the petition failed to demonstrate that the governor acted in a manner that was manifestly unreasonable or unjustified when the actions were taken. Therefore, charges one, two, three, and four were factually and legally insufficient. View "In re Recall of Inslee" on Justia Law

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Delaura Norg called 911 seeking emergency medical assistance for her husband, Fred. She gave the 911 dispatcher her correct address, which the dispatcher relayed to emergency responders from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). The Norgs’ apartment building was three blocks away from the nearest SFD station, but it took emergency responders over 15 minutes to arrive. This delay occurred because the SFD units failed to verify the Norgs’ address and, instead, went to a nearby nursing home based on the mistaken assumption that the Norgs lived there. The Norgs sued the City for negligence, alleging that SFD’s delayed response aggravated their injuries. The City pleaded the public duty doctrine as an affirmative defense and both parties moved for summary judgment on the question of duty. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in the Norgs’ favor and struck the City’s affirmative defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory review. The Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court properly granted partial summary judgment to the Norgs on the question of duty. In doing so, the Court expressed no opinion on the remaining elements of the Norgs’ claim (breach, causation, and damages). The Supreme Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Norg v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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The trial court denied Respondent William Talbott II’s motion to excuse a prospective juror (juror 40) for cause. Talbott could have removed juror 40 with a peremptory challenge, but he did not, nor did he exhaust his peremptory challenges on other prospective jurors. Instead, Talbott affirmatively accepted the jury panel, including juror 40, with at least two peremptory challenges still available to him. After he was convicted, Talbott appealed the denial of his for-cause challenge to juror 40. The Washington Supreme Court concluded Talbott's claim was foreclosed by a long line of precedent holding that a party who accepts the jury panel without exhausting their peremptory challenges cannot appeal “based on the jury’s composition.” View "Washington v. Talbott" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Chaz Butler, a Black man, was convicted of assaulting two security officers in separate incidents at two Seattle light rail stations. One of the victims, who appeared to be white, identified Butler as his assailant at trial. The victim had not made an out-of-court identification. Butler asked the trial court to instruct the jury according to the pattern jury instruction on eyewitness identifications, which included optional bracketed language that the jury may consider “[t]he witness’s familiarity or lack of familiarity with people of the [perceived] race or ethnicity of the perpetrator of the act.” The trial court agreed to give the pattern jury instruction, but—finding no evidence in the record regarding either the fallibility of cross-racial identification in general or the witness’s familiarity or lack of familiarity with people of Butler’s race in particular—declined to include that optional language. Butler did not challenge the admissibility of the witness’s identification testimony. On appeal, Butler argued that the trial court denied his right to present a defense by failing to give the cross-racial identification portion of the pattern instruction. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because there was insufficient evidence supporting the instruction, and it upheld Butler’s conviction. Finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Washington v. Butler" on Justia Law

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The collective bargaining contract between the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME Council 2 (Union) and the City of Spokane expired on December 31, 2020. Prior to its expiration, the Union wrote to the City’s labor relations manager that it desired to engage in traditional labor negotiations for renewal of the contract and included proposed ground rules for negotiations. The rules included a condition that the negotiating meetings be closed to the public. In response, the City informed the Union it intended to conduct the bargaining negotiations open to the public, consistent with the 2019 revision of section 40 of the city charter. Through counsel, the Union drafted an opinion letter pointing out that the City’s open bargaining rule was a violation of state law to which the City responded that it had not implemented open bargaining and were willing to negotiate in good faith. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether the municipal ordinance, requiring all collective bargaining between the city and union representatives be conducted in a manner open to the public, was preempted by state law and unconstitutional under the Washington State Constitution. The trial court ruled that section 40 of the city charter was preempted by state law; to this, the Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "Wash. State Council of County & City Emps. v. City of Spokane" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Washington Department of Ecology (Department) revised its Water Quality Program Permit Writer’s Manual to add a new section addressing methods permit writers could use to identify and measure polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) discharged into Washington waters. This specific revision was challenged on the grounds it constituted rule making outside the Washington Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Washington Supreme Court determined the manual revision was not a rule for the purposes of the APA because it merely guided permit writers, who had discretion to choose test methods on a case-by-case basis, and did not require the uniform application of a standard to an entire class of entities who discharged PCBs. View "Nw. Pulp & Paper Ass'n. v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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Rather than using the insurance agency’s in-house presiding officer, American Property Casualty Insurance Association (Association) requested an adjudicative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) pursuant to RCW 48.04.010(5). The request was denied. The Association sought a writ of mandamus against Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, requiring him to transfer the hearing. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the Association could have sought judicial review by way of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), ch. 34.05 RCW, thus, the Association failed to demonstrate it had “no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy” at law, one of the three requirements for a writ to issue. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition. View "Am. Prop. Cas. Ins. Ass'n v. Kreidler" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Li’Anthony Williams was 17 years old in 2001 when he pleaded guilty to assault in the second degree with sexual motivation and was sentenced under the indeterminate sentencing scheme for sex offenders. The trial court imposed the statutory maximum term of life with a minimum term at the bottom of the three to nine month standard range. Williams was transferred to the Department of Corrections (DOC) with the understanding that his release date would be determined by the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB or Board). The ISRB found Williams was not releasable. Williams in turn filed a personal restraint petition (PRP) on grounds that his maximum term of life sentence was unconstitutional and that he was sentenced to a nonexistent crime. Williams also argued his petition was not barred by the one-year time limit for two reasons: (1) his claim was based on Washington v. Houston-Sconiers, 391 P.3d 409 (2017), which was a significant, material change of law that should be retroactively applied; and (2) his conviction was invalid on its face. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with both claims: Williams’ petition failed to meet the time bar exception under RCW 10.73.100(6) because his sentence did not violate the substantive rule of Houston-Sconiers; therefore, Houston-Sconiers was not material to Williams’ claim. Furthermore, Williams’ petition did not meet the exception under RCW 10.73.090 because the State’s failure to specify the intended felony underlying the conviction on the judgment and sentence (J&S) did not render the J&S invalid on its face. The Court therefore dismissed Williams’ petition as untimely. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Williams" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Derrius Forcha-Williams was convicted by jury of second degree rape for an incident that occurred when he was 16 years old. He was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence with a minimum term of 120 months and a maximum term of life. On collateral review, the Court of Appeals held Forcha-Williams was entitled to resentencing because Washington v. Houston-Sconiers, 391 P.3d 409 (2017), was a significant and material change in the law that applied retroactively to Forcha-Williams’ sentence. In granting the petition for resentencing, the Court of Appeals held that Houston-Sconiers gave judges the discretion to impose a determinate sentence instead of the indeterminate sentence required by the legislature for offenders convicted of second degree rape. Additionally, the Court of Appeals held a petitioner establishes actual and substantial prejudice if they show the sentencing court failed to consider the mitigating qualities of the offender’s youth and/or failed to understand their absolute discretion to impose an exceptional sentence downward. The Washington Supreme Court found the appellate court misinterpreted the case law: (1) Houston-Sconiers gave judges the discretion to impose a sentence below the minimum term in an indeterminate sentence but not the discretion to alter the maximum punishment chosen by the legislature or to impose a determinate sentence in lieu of an indeterminate sentence; and (2) a Houston-Sconiers procedural error by itself did not constitute per se prejudice on collateral review. Because Forcha-Williams failed to show prejudice by a preponderance of the evidence, the Supreme Court dismissed his petition. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Forcha-Williams" on Justia Law