Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

by
The case revolves around the issue of whether a criminal defendant can be required to appear for nonjury proceedings from an "in-court holding cell" without an individualized inquiry justifying such a restraint. The defendant, Cassandra Luthi, was required to appear for a nonjury hearing from an in-court holding cell at the Cowlitz County Jail courtroom. Despite Luthi’s objections, the superior court did not conduct an individualized inquiry to determine whether such a restraint was justified, believing that it was unnecessary to do so.The superior court had required Luthi to appear from an in-court holding cell for her hearing, without conducting an individualized inquiry into whether this restraint was justified for security reasons. The State argued that the in-court holding cell did not implicate the due process right to appear at trial free from all bonds or shackles except in extraordinary circumstances, and that these due process protections did not apply to Luthi’s hearing because it was not a trial and there was no jury.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the in-court holding cell undermines the presumption of innocence, interferes with a defendant’s ability to communicate with counsel, and violates the dignity of the defendant and the judicial proceedings. Therefore, absent an individualized finding that such a restraint is necessary to protect essential state interests such as physical security, escape prevention, or courtroom decorum, the routine use of this in-court holding cell violates federal and state constitutional due process protections against inherently prejudicial courtroom practices. The court reversed the superior court, granted Luthi’s requested relief, and remanded for a new hearing. View "State v. Luthi" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of Washington State reviewed two cases involving individuals, Kimonti Dennis Carter and Shawn Dee Reite, who were originally sentenced to mandatory life without parole (LWOP) for aggravated first-degree murders they committed between the ages of 18 and 20. Both Carter and Reite had served decades in prison and had demonstrated significant personal transformation and rehabilitation. They appealed to the court to affirm their determinate sentences, which had been granted by the superior courts at resentencing.The superior courts had resentenced Carter and Reite to determinate sentences after a previous ruling by the Supreme Court of Washington State (In re Personal Restraint of Monschke) held that mandatory LWOP sentences were unconstitutional for individuals in their age group. The State appealed these resentencing decisions, arguing that the superior courts did not have the statutory authority to impose determinate sentences for aggravated first-degree murder.The Supreme Court of Washington State affirmed the determinate sentences for both Carter and Reite. The court held that the superior courts had the statutory authority to impose determinate sentences for aggravated first-degree murder for Carter and Reite. The court also held that the superior court had the authority to resentence Carter on his other convictions. However, the court found that the superior court improperly imposed three years of community custody on Reite because this was unauthorized by statute for the crime of conviction. Therefore, the court affirmed the superior court that sentenced Carter and affirmed the superior court that sentenced Reite for all but the imposition of community custody. The court reversed and remanded to the superior court only for purposes of striking the community custody term for Reite. View "State v. Carter" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
In the early 20th century, Jim Wallahee, a citizen of the Yakama Nation, was convicted for illegal hunting when he killed a deer on ceded Yakama land. The Yakama Nation had signed a treaty with the United States government, which explicitly reserved many rights for the Yakama people, including the right to hunt on open and unclaimed lands. Despite this, Wallahee was convicted in 1924, and his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, relying on precedent that has since been overturned.The lower courts did not recognize Wallahee's treaty right to hunt. The trial court convicted him, and the Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed his conviction, largely based on precedent established in Towessnute and Race Horse, decisions that have since been overturned. The court made a series of assertions that are both incorrect and harmful, including that “the Yak[a]ma Tribe was not an independent nation nor a sovereign,” that the Yakama people were “mere occupants” of their ancestral lands, and that the Yakama treaty was abrogated at statehood.In the present case, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington rejected the harmful logic that underpinned Wallahee's wrongful conviction and recognized that Wallahee had a clear and enforceable treaty right to hunt that deer. The court granted the motion to intervene, the motion to recall the mandate, and the motion to vacate Wallahee’s conviction. The court acknowledged that its 1927 opinion was incorrect on the law and advanced many centuries’ worth of harmful tropes about Native Americans. The court explicitly repudiated that belief and disavowed its opinions that reflected that belief. View "State v. Wallahee" on Justia Law

by
In 2021, Lyra Jean Spencer filed a personal injury lawsuit against Franklin Hills Health-Spokane LLC. To serve the summons, her attorney hired a process server who, after learning that the registered agent was unavailable, served the documents to the company's human resources manager, Sheri Flavel. Franklin Hills filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that service on Flavel was improper as she was not authorized to accept service under RCW 4.28.080(9). The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that Spencer had not met her initial burden to show that service was proper.Spencer appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing. The Court of Appeals concluded that Spencer had made a prima facie showing that service to Flavel was proper and the trial court erred in dismissing the case without first holding an evidentiary hearing to determine if Flavel was a “managing agent” or “office assistant” under RCW 4.28.080(9).The Supreme Court of the State of Washington granted Franklin Hills’s petition for review. The court concluded that the service statute is to be liberally construed to effectuate the purpose of accomplishing service of process and notice to the defendant. The court held that a person may be a managing agent if they are in charge of a single department of the corporation’s business, even if their discretion is controlled somewhat by a superior, provided that they have substantial managerial responsibilities and authority to act on behalf of the corporation. The court found that Flavel, as the human resources manager, met the definition of a managing agent under the statute. Therefore, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings, allowing the lawsuit to proceed to discovery and trial. View "Spencer v. Franklin Hills Health-Spokane, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Andrew Bertrand, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree child molestation. Bertrand argued that his counsel was ineffective for failing to propose lesser included offense instructions on fourth-degree assault. The trial court denied Bertrand's motion, ruling that although counsel was deficient for purposes of Strickland’s first prong, Bertrand could not show prejudice as required by Strickland’s second prong. The trial court ruled that because the State had met its burden of proving each element of first-degree child molestation and the jury convicted Bertrand of those charges, he could not show prejudice.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington clarified that a defendant can show ineffective assistance based on counsel’s failure to propose a lesser included offense instruction, even if there is sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. However, the court affirmed the trial court's decision, stating that Bertrand was not prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to propose the fourth-degree assault instructions. The court remanded the remaining issues to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "State v. Bertrand" on Justia Law

by
The case involves an action filed by Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Lawrence Haskell against Jilma Meneses, the secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The Prosecutor sought a writ of mandamus directing Meneses to comply with statutory duties under chapter 10.77 RCW and timely provide competency services in criminal proceedings. The case specifically concerned three categories of Spokane County defendants in felony criminal proceedings ordered to receive competency services from DSHS.Previously, a class action was filed in federal court, challenging DSHS's delays in providing competency services to criminal defendants in pretrial custody. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington held these delays violated the class members’ due process rights and issued a permanent injunction against DSHS. The injunction set strict time limits for providing competency services to defendants in pretrial custody, appointed a special court monitor, and began oversight of DSHS’s efforts to comply with the injunction.In the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, DSHS argued that the court must dismiss the petition for lack of original jurisdiction because the secretary is not a state officer within the meaning of the state constitution. The court agreed with DSHS, concluding that the secretary is not a state officer. The court reasoned that a state officer must be elected, subject to impeachment, and granted a State sovereign power, none of which applied to the secretary. Therefore, the court dismissed the petition for writ of mandamus. View "Spokane County v. Meneses" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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