Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around Terry Cousins' efforts to obtain public records related to her sister, who died while in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC). Cousins alleged that the DOC's response to her public records request violated the Public Records Act (PRA). The main issue was whether Cousins' PRA action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations.Previously, the DOC had responded to Cousins' request by producing multiple installments of records and then sent Cousins a letter in January 2019 stating that her request was "now closed". Cousins asked about specific records she believed were missing, and the DOC reopened Cousins' original PRA request to conduct an additional search, leading to the production of hundreds of pages of previously undisclosed responsive records, followed by a second letter stating that the request was "now closed" in June 2021.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the June 2021 closing letter was DOC’s final, definitive response to Cousins’ PRA request. The court ruled that Cousins' PRA action was not barred by the statute of limitations. The court reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Cousins v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the Benton County Water Conservancy Board (the Board) and the Washington State Department of Ecology (the Department). The Department primarily manages the state's water resources, while the Board has coextensive authority to process voluntary water right transfers between water right holders. The dispute arose when the Board challenged a department policy (Policy 1070) concerning certain water right transfers. The Board claimed that it suffered injury-in-fact from the Department's refusal to accept certain administrative division forms pursuant to the policy.The case was first heard in the superior court, which granted summary judgment to the Board and directed the Department to accept administrative division requests from the Board. The Department appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that the Board lacked standing to challenge the Department's action.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court held that the Board lacked standing to challenge Department Policy 1070. The Board failed to demonstrate how it suffered injury-in-fact from the Department’s refusal to accept certain administrative division forms pursuant to the policy. The Board suffered no prejudice and its interests would not be redressed by invalidating the policy. The court concluded that the Board's interests were indirect and inchoate, and it failed to establish injury-in-fact under the Administrative Procedure Act. Therefore, the Board lacked standing to pursue this challenge to the Department’s use of Policy 1070. View "Benton County Water Conservancy Board v. Department of Ecology" on Justia Law

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The case involves AURC III LLC, an Oregon limited liability company, and several Washington and Delaware limited liability companies collectively referred to as Point Ruston. Point Ruston purchased a 97-acre former copper smelter and environmental clean-up site located on the Puget Sound waterfront in Ruston and Tacoma, Washington, for $169,000,000 and developed it in phases. To fund the second phase of development, Point Ruston negotiated a $66 million loan from American United Development Group, which created AURC III LLC to raise and manage funds from foreign investors seeking United States residency. After disbursing the full amount of the loan, AURC filed an amended complaint against Point Ruston, alleging that Point Ruston was delinquent on interest payments in breach of its loan agreement. The superior court ordered Point Ruston and AURC to engage in arbitration as per their loan agreement.The arbitrator issued an interim award only on the amount of current and default interest due and awarded $10,969,015 to AURC. The arbitrator then issued a final award for the same amount, as well as awarding attorney fees and arbitration fees and expenses. In total, Point Ruston was required to pay over $11.4 million. AURC moved to confirm the award and for presentation of judgment. Initially, Point Ruston agreed AURC was “entitled to confirmation of the Award and entry of a Final Judgment” but opposed attaching the arbitrator’s awards to that judgment. Before the court could enter the written confirmation order and judgment, Point Ruston paid the award and filed a motion to dismiss the case as moot because no live dispute remained. After AURC alerted the court that it received the award amount from Point Ruston, the court denied the motion to dismiss. The court entered the confirmation order with the interim and final awards attached as exhibits, as well as a judgment against Point Ruston. AURC filed a full satisfaction of judgment.Point Ruston appealed on two grounds. It challenged (1) the superior court’s denial of the motion to dismiss and (2) the court’s decision to attach the arbitration awards to the confirmation order. Division Two of the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion. Point Ruston sought review in the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, which was granted.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that when a party seeks a confirmation order, RCW 7.04A.220 requires issuance of the order subject to narrow exceptions inapplicable here. Payment of an arbitration award does not render the underlying case moot. The court also held that attaching an arbitrator’s award merely identifies the basis for the confirmation order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "AURC III, LLC v. Point Ruston Phase II, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the death of a patient, Cindy Essex, who visited Samaritan Hospital's emergency room due to severe shoulder pain. The doctors, who were not employees of the hospital but independent contractors, failed to diagnose her necrotizing fasciitis, a severe soft-tissue infection, leading to her death within 24 hours. The estate of Cindy Essex sought to hold Samaritan Hospital liable for the doctors' alleged negligence under theories of nondelegable duty, inherent function, and agency law principles of delegation.The trial court denied the estate's motion for partial summary judgment concerning Samaritan’s potential vicarious liability for the doctors' alleged negligence. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, concluding that ostensible agency is the sole basis for holding a hospital vicariously liable for the negligence of nonemployee physicians.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. The court held that statutes and regulations impose nondelegable duties on hospitals concerning the provision of emergency services. A hospital remains responsible for those nondelegable duties regardless of whether it performs those duties through its own staff or contracts with doctors who are independent contractors. The court also found that the estate provided sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment concerning its corporate negligence claim against Samaritan. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "In re Estate of Essex v. Grant County Public Hospital District No. 1" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, Austin River Keller drove his car into a ditch and subsequently failed a breath alcohol test. The Kitsap County District Court suppressed the breath alcohol test results produced from the Dräger Alcotest 9510 machines in Keller’s case and in all other DUI cases in Kitsap County District Court. The district court concluded that the breath test results violated state statutes and regulations. The district court found that state law places strict limits on the admission of breath test results into evidence. The court also found that the Dräger machine had never rounded the mean before calculating the plus or minus 10 percent range, as required by state regulations. Instead, the Dräger was programmed to truncate the mean before performing that calculation. The district court ruled that the machine’s failure to do those necessary mathematical calculations itself rendered the results invalid and inadmissible under state law and court precedent.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington reversed the district court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the relevant statutes and regulations do not require the Dräger machine itself to perform the mean and the plus or minus 10 percent range calculation at the time of the test. The court found that the State could establish those required pieces of the foundation for admission of breath test results by doing the math discussed above in a different manner. The court reversed the district court’s evidentiary rulings and suppression order and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "State v. Keller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Washington considered whether the State's 12-year delay in bringing charges against John Ray Stearns, despite having matched his DNA to a murder victim in 2004, violated his due process rights. Stearns contended that this delay prejudiced his defense as a key witness who could have testified that she saw the victim with someone other than Stearns in the hours preceding her death had died before the trial. The trial court denied Stearn's motion to dismiss on these grounds, and he was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder. However, the Court of Appeals reversed this conviction, concluding that the State's negligent delay in charging and the loss of key witness testimony violated Stearns' due process rights.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington disagreed and reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. Although the Court acknowledged that the State was negligent in failing to bring charges sooner, it held that the loss of the witness's testimony did not amount to a denial of due process. The Court reasoned that the due process inquiry is fact-intensive and that Stearns had not sufficiently demonstrated that the prejudice he suffered from the loss of the witness's potential testimony justified the dismissal of a serious murder case. View "State v. Stearns" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2016 and 2021, Steven Buck was convicted of felony failure to register as a sex offender and sentenced to prison terms followed by mandatory 36 months of community custody. The trial court ran Buck’s 2021 community custody term consecutively to the 2016 community custody term, requiring Buck to serve 72 months of community custody in total. Buck argued on appeal that the court exceeded its authority under RCW 9.94A.589(5), which limits nonexceptional consecutive terms of community supervision to 24 months in total.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the terms "community supervision" and "community custody" are synonymous within RCW 9.94A.589(5) for offenses that occurred after July 1, 2000. Thus, the statute prohibits consecutive terms of community custody exceeding 24 months in total for nonexceptional sentences.The court found that the trial court erred in imposing a total of 72 months of community custody for Buck's 2016 and 2021 sentences. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, vacated the community custody portion of Buck's sentence, and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing in compliance with this interpretation of RCW 9.94A.589(5). View "State v. Buck" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A dispute arose between the Gardens Condominium (a Washington nonprofit corporation) and Farmers Insurance Exchange (a California company) over the interpretation of a resulting loss exception in an all-risk insurance policy. The Gardens Condominium discovered water damage to the roof's fireboard, sheathing, and several sleepers and joists in 2019, caused by faulty construction which led to insufficient ventilation in the roof assembly. They sought coverage for the cost of repairing the damage, which was denied by Farmers Insurance Exchange, who argued that the damage was excluded under the faulty workmanship exclusion in the policy.The trial court ruled in favor of Farmers Insurance Exchange, stating that the policy intended to exclude damage where an uncovered event, such as faulty workmanship, initiated a sequence of events causing damage. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the resulting loss exception preserved coverage.The case reached the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. The court, following a de novo review, sided with the Court of Appeals, stating that a resulting loss exception must have effect to preserve coverage for loss resulting from covered perils, even if the peril is the natural consequence of an excluded peril. The court concluded that a resulting loss exception to the faulty workmanship exclusion revives coverage, even if the faulty workmanship exclusion would otherwise deny it. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Gardens Condominium v. Farmers Insurance Exchange" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, several construction industry associations challenged a 2018 law (RCW 39.12.015(3)) that changed the method for determining prevailing wage rates on public works projects. Prior to the law, the State used wage and hour surveys to establish the prevailing wage rates. The 2018 law directed the State to adopt the wage rates established in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for those trades and occupations that have CBAs.The plaintiffs argued that the new law violated a provision of the Washington Constitution (article II, section 37) because it conflicted with an older law (RCW 39.12.026(1)) that restricted the use of wage data collected by the State to the county in which the work was performed. The Court of Appeals agreed and declared the new law unconstitutional.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. It held that the older law's restriction on the use of wage data applied only to data collected through wage and hour surveys, not to wage rates adopted from CBAs. Therefore, the older law did not conflict with the new law, and the new law did not violate the state constitution. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Associated General Contractors Of Washington v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Washington was required to make a decision on a case involving a high school student, M.G., who was expelled on an emergency basis by Yakima School District No. 7 (the District). The District later extended the expulsion to a long-term suspension without providing M.G. with the statutorily required procedural protections. The Court of Appeals found that M.G. was indefinitely suspended in violation of his statutory procedural rights and reversed the dismissal of M.G.’s suit by the superior court.M.G., a high school student, had previously signed a behavior agreement, or “gang contract." He was expelled from school for violating this contract and for his involvement in an altercation with another student. The District converted M.G.’s 10-day emergency expulsion into a long-term suspension. M.G. was later enrolled in an online learning program, which did not meet his academic needs.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington agreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that the District’s decision was disciplinary and that M.G. had a right to due process, which was violated. The court determined that under RCW 28A.600.015(1) and WAC 392-400-430(8), M.G. was entitled to return to his regular educational setting following the conclusion of his suspension. The court also found compensatory education to be a potential equitable remedy for violations of student disciplinary statutes and regulations. The case was remanded to the superior court to determine the appropriate remedy. View "M.G. v. Yakima Sch. Dist. No. 7" on Justia Law