Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

by
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether the penalty for intentionally concealing the source of political contributions could be based on the amount concealed. Washington voters proposed and passed Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA or act), ch. 42.17A RCW. The FCPA compels disclosure and “compelled disclosure may encroach on First Amendment rights by infringing on the privacy of association and belief.” In 2012, California voters were presented with Proposition 37, which would have required some manufacturers to disclose whether packaged food contained genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and many of its member companies successfully campaigned against Proposition 37, and some received negative responses from the public for doing so. In the wake of the Proposition 37 campaign, Washington sponsors filed Initiative 522, which also would have required GMO labels on packaged food. And like Proposition 37, GMA opposed it. GMA raised more than $14 million to oppose GMO labeling efforts. GMA in turn contributed $11 million to the “No on 522” campaign from the Defense of Brands strategic account. Despite its political activities in Washington, GMA did not register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and did not make any PDC reports until after this lawsuit was filed. In response to the suit, GMA registered “under duress” but, as of the time of trial, still had not filed all of the required reports. The State sued, contending that GMA intentionally, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated the FCPA. The trial court specifically rejected testimony from GMA officers that they had not intended to violate the law, finding “it is not credible that GMA executives believed that shielding GMA’s members as the true source of contributions to GMA’s Defense of Brands Account was legal.” A majority of the Washington Supreme Court concluded GMA did not show that the trial court erred in imposing a punitive sanction under the FCPA based on the amount intentionally concealed. The Court thus affirmed the courts below and remanded for any further proceedings necessary. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

by
The Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) challenged the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) approval of a permit that allowed Cooke Aquaculture Pacific LLC to change fish species to commercially farm steelhead trout in Puget Sound. The WFC alleged: (1) WDFW’s conclusion that an environmental impact statement (EIS) was not required was clearly erroneous; and (2) WDFW violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by failing to consider and disclose appropriate alternatives to the proposal under RCW 43.21C.030(2)(e). The WFC asked the Washington Supreme Court to reverse the permit approval and order WDFW to complete an EIS. The superior court found WDFW’s SEPA analysis was not clearly erroneous and the steelhead permit application did not trigger RCW 43.21C.030(2)(e). Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wild Fish Conservancy v. Dep't of Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

by
David Dodge was convicted of first degree murder, rape, and burglary for crimes he committed in 1997, when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Twenty years later, the Washington legislature passed RCW 9.94A.730, giving people like Dodge who received lengthy sentences for crimes committed as juveniles, a chance for earlier release, after serving at least 20 years of their sentence. The statute: (1) required the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB) to begin with a presumption of release after 20 years and to apply that presumption of release by considering “affirmative and other conditions” that could make release work; and (2) directed the ISRB to “give public safety considerations the highest priority when making all discretionary decisions regarding the ability for release and conditions of release.” In his personal restraint petition (PRP), Dodge challenged the ISRB’s application of this statute to his petition for early release after he had served more than 20 years of his 50-year sentence, arguing the ISRB erred by: (1) failing to apply the presumption of release contained in RCW 9.94A.730; (2) failing to consider conditions of release that could reduce his risk to an acceptable level, as the statute mandated; and (3) relying primarily on static historical facts about his crime rather than on evidence of his rehabilitation. In a matter of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court, it found that the ISRB placed singular weight on the duty to consider public safety, while failing to apply the presumption of release or meaningfully consider any conditions of release that might reduce risk to an appropriate level. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the ISRB for a new early release hearing. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Dodge" on Justia Law

by
Glacier Northwest Inc. claimed the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174 (Local 174) was liable for concrete product loss during a strike and for an alleged misrepresentation by a union representative that Glacier claims interfered with its ability to service a concrete mat pour. The trial court ruled the strike-related claims were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and granted summary judgment for Local 174 on the misrepresentation claims. Glacier appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed on the preemption issue but affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the misrepresentation claims. The Washington Supreme Court granted review and accepted amicus curiae briefing from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, to address whether an employer’s state tort claims against its truck drivers’ union were preempted by the NLRA, and whether any claims that were not preempted were properly dismissed by the trial court. The Supreme Court concluded the NLRA preempted Glacier’s tort claims related to the loss of its concrete product because that loss was incidental to a strike arguably protected by federal law. The Court also affirmed the dismissal of Glacier’s misrepresentation claims because the union representative’s promise of future action was not a statement of existing fact on which those claims could be properly based, and because the statement was not a proximate cause of Glacier’s losses. View "Glacier Nw., Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters Local Union No. 174" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Francisco Moreno was convicted of first degree burglary, which was defined by statute and required the State to prove that an accused: (1) entered or remained unlawfully in a building; (2) with an intent to commit a crime. On appeal, Moreno argued that both the charging document and jury instructions were constitutionally deficient because they omitted the implied essential element of knowledge of the unlawfulness of his entering or remaining. The Court of Appeals affirmed Moreno’s convictions, concluding that no implied essential element exists for first degree burglary. Finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Moreno" on Justia Law

by
Jerry Lynn Peterson pleaded guilty to the sale of heroin in violation of RCW 69.50.410 of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act (UCSA). She petitioned the Washington Supreme Court to hold that RCW 69.50.410, if not all of the UCSA, was invalid and unconstitutional because, she contended, the statute had been impliedly repealed and, among other things, violated the privileges and immunities clause of the state constitution. Accordingly, she argued, the charges against her had to be dismissed. Finding no constitutional infirmity in the statute, the Supreme Court rejected Peterson’s arguments and remanded for resentencing. View "Washington v. Peterson" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Brian Anderson was convicted of four counts of delivery of a controlled substance, methamphetamine. The fourth amended information alleged that the first count was subject to RCW 69.50.435(1)(c)’s “[a]dditional penalty” because the offense occurred “[w]ithin one thousand feet of a school bus route stop designated by the school district.” The special verdict form asked the jury whether the defendant delivered a controlled substance to a person “within one thousand feet of a school bus route stop designated by a school district.” The jury was not instructed on the definition of “school bus route stop.” But unchallenged jury instructions proposed by the State defined “school bus” as a vehicle with a seating capacity of more than 10, among other specifications, and the State presented no evidence on the seating capacity of any buses or on the other listed definitional factors. The jury then answered yes to the special verdict form’s question, and the court imposed RCW 69.50.435(1)(c)’s “[a]dditional penalty” (or sentencing enhancement). Anderson contended on appeal that under the law of the case doctrine, the unchallenged jury instruction defining “school bus” in such detail compelled the State to prove that a “school bus” meeting that detailed definition actually used the school bus stops at issue here. He further argued the evidence was insufficient to meet that burden of proof. The State acknowledged that it presented no evidence on the “school bus” definitional details; it argued that neither the statute nor the law of the case doctrine required it to do so. To this, the Washington Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the trial court. View "Washington v. Anderson" on Justia Law

by
There have been multiple cases that purported to (at least partially) adjudicate and reserve water rights of various parties throughout the Yakima River Drainage Basin (the Basin). The underlying litigation began in 1977 when the Washington State Department of Ecology filed a general water rights adjudication for all waters contained within the Basin. The Yakima County Superior Court divided the Basin into multiple distinct subbasins and issued conditional final orders (CFOs) for each subbasin at various points within the litigation. The superior court issued its final decree in May 2019, incorporating all of the prior CFOs as necessary. Multiple parties appealed the final decree, and, after briefing, the Court of Appeals certified the case to the Washington Supreme Court. The appeal could be categorized as three separate appeals, each seeking to modify the trial court's final decree (or the incorporations of the CFOs within). Although each distinct appeal was unrelated as to the disputed issues, some parties had an interest in more than one appeal. Further, all three appeals were tied together by variations on one common procedural gatekeeping issue: the appealability of CFOs and how that related to an appeal of the final decree. Overall, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court in part and affirmed in part. View "Dep't of Ecology v. Acquavella" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether Governor Inslee exceeded his constitutional authority to veto whole bills, “entire section[s]” of bills, and “appropriation items” when he vetoed a single sentence that appeared seven times in various portions of section 220 of ESHB 1160, the 2019 transportation appropriations bill. Section 220 appropriated moneys to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for public transportation-related grants. The vetoed sentence (the “fuel type condition”) barred WSDOT from considering vehicle fuel type as a factor in the grant selection process. The Supreme Court concluded the Governor did exceed his authority; the bill was a valid legislative limit on an executive agency’s expenditure of appropriated funds. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s ordered on summary judgment in favor of the legislature. View "Washington State Legislature v. Inslee" on Justia Law

by
As cell phones made text messaging a ubiquitous form of communication, the Washington Supreme Court recognized that text message conversations constituted “a private affair protected by the state constitution from warrantless intrusion.” The Court in Washington v. Hinton, 319 P.3d 9 (2014), held that an individual whose text messages was unlawfully searched on an associate’s cell phone could challenge that search in a subsequent prosecution—rejecting the view in other states that any privacy interest in a text message was lost once the message was sent. In this case, the Supreme Court was asked to extend Hinton to prohibit law enforcement from using information obtained from the lawful, consensual search of a third party’s cell phone to set up a separate text message exchange on a different cell phone between Respondent Reece Bowman and an undercover agent posing as Bowman’s associate. Specifically, Bowman argued that both the search and the ruse violated his rights under article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, as well as the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, by intruding on a private affair without authority of law. The Supreme Court rejected these arguments, holding that a cell phone owner’s voluntary consent to search text messages on their phone provides law enforcement with the authority of law necessary to justify intruding on an otherwise private affair. Further, the Court held that a subsequent police ruse using lawfully obtained information did not constitute a privacy invasion or trespass in violation of either our state constitution or the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals’ judgment was reversed and Bowman’s conviction reinstated. View "Washington v. Bowman" on Justia Law