Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries
Schiff v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
The case involves a dispute between Dr. Stan Schiff and Liberty Mutual Insurance Companies. Dr. Schiff, on behalf of himself and a class of similarly situated providers, claimed that Liberty Mutual's practice of reducing provider bills to an 80th percentile cap based on a computer-generated calculation violated Washington's Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Liberty Mutual argued that the statutory requirement to conduct a reasonable investigation into medical expenses is satisfied by determining the 80th percentile of charges for a treatment in the geographic area, and this practice is not an unfair practice under the CPA.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that Liberty Mutual's practice of using the FAIR Health database to determine the 80th percentile of charges for a treatment in the geographic area is not unfair or unreasonable and does not violate the CPA or the personal injury protection (PIP) requirements to establish standards under which reasonable charges for medical procedures are determined. The court reasoned that comparing charges for the same treatment in the same geographic area is relevant to the determination of reasonableness. The court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded the case to the trial court to enter a summary judgment order in favor of Liberty Mutual. View "Schiff v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law
King County v. Abernathy
In "King County v. Michael J. Abernathy et al.", the Supreme Court of the State of Washington answered a question certified by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. The case involved a dispute over the ownership of a 3.6 mile section of land along the shore of Lake Sammamish, known as the Corridor. In 1887, prior to Washington becoming a state, a railroad company was granted a "right-of-way" to build a railroad over the Corridor. Since then, the Corridor and surrounding shorelands have been used by various parties including individual property owners, the state, and the county. The certified question asked whether a right-of-way approved by the United States Department of the Interior under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 is a conveyance "patented by the United States" under Article XVII, Section 2 of the Washington State Constitution. If the land was "patented" by the federal government, it would have been owned by the railroad and later King County. If the land was not patented, Washington would have owned it at the time of statehood and later conveyed it to private parties, and the shoreland would currently belong to the homeowners, the Abernathys. The Washington Supreme Court held that the right-of-way was an easement and did not constitute a land conveyance patented by the United States. Therefore, the land belonged to Washington at the time of statehood and is presently owned by the homeowners. View "King County v. Abernathy" on Justia Law
State v. Martinez
In the State of Washington, two brothers, Alejandro S. Martinez and Eduardo S. Martinez, were charged with separate counts of sexually abusing their younger stepbrothers in their shared family home. The State of Washington sought to join the two cases for trial on the grounds that the charges and evidence were virtually identical, and to minimize the number of times the victims would have to testify. Despite objections from both brothers, the trial court granted the State's motion for joinder and both brothers were found guilty as charged. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the trial court abused its discretion when it improperly joined the two cases without first meeting at least one of the two bases for joinder under CrR 4.3(b)(3) — whether the offenses were part of a common scheme or plan, or were so closely connected in respect to time, place, and occasion. The court found that the brothers acted independently, were charged with separate criminal acts occurring at separate times, and there was no evidence they acted in concert or as part of a common scheme or plan. The court also found that Alejandro, but not Eduardo, was prejudiced by the joinder. Consequently, the court reversed the Court of Appeals in part and remanded Alejandro's case to the trial court for further proceedings. The court found no violation of Eduardo's constitutional right to due process. View "State v. Martinez" on Justia Law
Pacific Lutheran Univ. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London
In this case before the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, a consortium of over 130 institutions of higher education sued a group of 16 insurance carriers for denying their COVID-19 related claims. The insurance carriers had issued identical “all risk” property insurance policies to the institutions via the Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators Inc. (EIIA). The colleges, including three in Washington, filed the suit in Pierce County Superior Court, Washington, seeking a declaratory judgment that their COVID-19 related losses were covered under the insurance policies. However, two of the defendant insurers filed a similar suit in Illinois, seeking a declaratory judgment that the losses were not covered by the policies.The insurers argued that the Washington court should dismiss the case based on forum non conveniens, asserting that Illinois was a more convenient forum due to the geographical distribution of the colleges. They also argued that the Illinois action should be allowed to proceed. The colleges, on the other hand, argued that the insurance policies' "suit against the company" clause allowed them to choose the forum and prohibited the insurers from seeking to alter that choice.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed the lower court's decision, denying the motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds and issuing an injunction against further proceedings in the Illinois action. The court held that the insurers had contractually agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of any court chosen by the insured and could not seek to transfer, change venue, or remove any lawsuit filed by the insured in such a court. The court also found that an injunction was appropriate under the circumstances to protect the colleges' contractual rights and prevent a manifest wrong and injustice. View "Pacific Lutheran Univ. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's London" on Justia Law
M.N. v. MultiCare Health Sys., Inc.
In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington was asked to consider a class action suit brought by patients against MultiCare Health System, Inc., a Washington corporation that operates Good Samaritan Hospital. The suit arose after a nurse employed by MultiCare, Cora Weberg, improperly diverted injectable narcotics for her own use and infected some emergency department patients with hepatitis C. The patients claimed that MultiCare failed to meet the accepted standard of care in supervising and hiring Nurse Weberg. The trial court divided the class into two groups: those who were assigned to Nurse Weberg and those who were not. It then dismissed the claims of the second group. The trial court ruled that legal causation was not satisfied because Nurse Weberg did not directly treat these patients. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.However, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington reversed both courts and held that legal causation is satisfied. The court held that both classes can proceed with their chapter 7.70 RCW claims, which govern civil actions for damages for injury occurring as a result of health care. The court reasoned that the General Treatment Class's injuries arose as a result of health care, allowing their claim under chapter 7.70 RCW to proceed. The court also found that legal causation is satisfied when a hospital’s negligent supervision and hiring potentially exposes patients to a bloodborne pathogen, inducing fear and requiring blood testing. Thus, the court concluded that the General Treatment Class's claims should not have been dismissed. View "M.N. v. MultiCare Health Sys., Inc." on Justia Law
Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc.
In Washington State, a second-tier subcontractor, Velazquez Framing LLC, was not paid for the work it did on property owned by Cascadia Homes Inc., a general contracting company. High End Construction LLC, who had been contracted by Cascadia, subcontracted the work to Velazquez without informing Cascadia. After completing the work, Velazquez filed a lien for labor and materials without giving prelien notice, which resulted in a dispute over whether prelien notice was required for labor liens under Chapter 60.04 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that, based on the plain language of the relevant statutes and legislative history, prelien notice is not required for labor liens. The court noted that while Velazquez could not lien for its materials and equipment without providing prelien notice, it could lien for its labor. The case was remanded to the trial court to determine the value of the labor performed. The court's decision reversed the rulings of the Court of Appeals and the trial court, both of which had concluded that prelien notice was required. View "Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc." on Justia Law
Royal Oaks Country Club v. Dep’t of Revenue
The Supreme Court of the State of Washington found that the initiation fees charged by Royal Oaks Country Club, a nonprofit corporation, are fully deductible from the business and occupation (B&O) tax under RCW 82.04.4282. The statute permits taxpayers to deduct "bona fide" initiation fees, among other things, from their B&O tax. The court held that these initiation fees were "bona fide" as they were paid solely for the privilege of membership, and did not automatically entitle a member to use any service or facility of the club. The court differentiated between dues and initiation fees, noting that the statute treats these two terms separately. The court rejected the Washington Department of Revenue's argument that a portion of the initiation fee was for access to facilities and thus not subject to the exemption, stating that there is a difference between access and use. The court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision that Royal Oaks' initiation fees qualify as bona fide initiation fees and are therefore wholly deductible. View "Royal Oaks Country Club v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law
Barlow v. State
The Supreme Court of the State of Washington considered two questions certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding a university's duty of care towards its students. The plaintiff, a student, alleged that the defendant university was negligent in failing to protect her from being raped by a fellow student, who had prior complaints of sexual misconduct, at an off-campus party. The first question asked whether under Washington law a university has a special relationship with its students that gives rise to a duty to use reasonable care to protect them from foreseeable harm caused by other students. The Court answered yes, indicating that such a relationship exists as defined by the common law principles laid out in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 344. This duty applies when a student is on campus or participating in university-sponsored activities. The second question asked about the scope of this duty. The Court determined that the duty applies within the confines of the university campus or at university-controlled events, and is based on a student's enrollment and presence on campus. The Court did not extend this duty to off-campus situations or situations not under the university's control. Therefore, the Court concluded that the university was not liable for the plaintiff's off-campus assault. View "Barlow v. State" on Justia Law
P.E.L. v. Premera Blue Cross
In this case, the plaintiffs, a minor and her parents, sued their health insurer, Premera Blue Cross, for denying coverage for the minor’s stay in a wilderness therapy program, claiming that the denial violates mental health parity laws. The plaintiffs also alleged breach of contract, insurance bad faith, and violation of the Consumer Protection Act.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim based on alleged violation of federal parity laws does not form a viable common law action. The Court found that the plaintiffs failed to show that a violation of federal parity law would give rise to a viable common law action for breach of contract.Furthermore, the Court held that the breach of contract action based on Premera's alleged violation of state parity laws could not succeed based on the statutory language that was in place at the time.However, the Court did affirm the lower court’s finding that the plaintiffs were not required to produce evidence of objective symptomatology to support their insurance bad faith claim for emotional distress damages. Consequently, the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on the bad faith and Consumer Protection Act claims. View "P.E.L. v. Premera Blue Cross" on Justia Law
Nwauzor v. The GEO Grp., Inc.
The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that detained workers at a privately owned and operated immigration detention center are considered "employees" under Washington's Minimum Wage Act (MWA), and are thus entitled to receive the state's minimum wage for their work. The court rejected arguments from the detention center operator, The GEO Group, that the detained workers should be exempt from the MWA because they resided and slept at their place of employment. The court also disagreed with GEO's claim that the MWA's government-institutions exemption applied to the detainees because the facility was operated under contract with the federal government. The court found the government-institutions exemption only applies to detainees in public, government-run institutions, and not in privately owned and operated facilities. Finally, the court ruled that a damages award to one party (a class of detainees) does not prevent another party (the State of Washington) from seeking equitable relief in the form of an unjust enrichment award. The case stemmed from lawsuits brought by the State and a class of detainees alleging that GEO's practice of paying detainees less than Washington's minimum wage violated the MWA. After a lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, GEO appealed, leading to the certification of questions to the Washington Supreme Court. View "Nwauzor v. The GEO Grp., Inc." on Justia Law