Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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

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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if not all of the UCSA, was invalid and unconstitutional because, she contended, the statute had been impliedly repealed and, among other things, violated the privileges and immunities clause of the state constitution.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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Tradesmen International and Laborworks Industrial Staffing Specialists were staffing agencies that placed temporary workers with host employers. Tradesmen staffed a worker at a Dochnahl Construction site. Laborworks staffed workers at a Strategic Materials recycling facility. The Department of Labor and Industries (Department) cited the staffing agencies for Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) violations arising from the staffing operations. In both cases, the citations were vacated by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (Board), finding that the staffing agencies were not liable employers under WISHA. The Department appealed the decisions to the superior court. As to Laborworks, the superior court reinstated the citations, and as to Tradesmen, the superior court affirmed the Board and vacated the citations. In both cases, the Court of Appeals determined that the staffing agencies were not liable employers under WISHA and vacated the citations. After its review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals as to Tradesmen and reversed as to Laborworks. View "Dep't of Labor & Indus. v. Tradesmen Int'l, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned Laszlo Molnar’s postjudgment motion for resentencing on one count of second degree rape based on the State’s alleged breach of the plea agreement. The sentencing court denied Molnar’s motion, and the Court of Appeals reversed. Molnar agreed to a contested sentencing hearing, at which he and the State agreed to make different sentencing recommendations to the court. The Washington Supreme Court determined the State did not breach the plea agreement by filing a memorandum advocating for its own recommendation, a sentence at the middle of the standard range. "The State’s short memorandum made this recommendation explicitly and repeatedly, and it did not cross the line into improperly advocating for a longer sentence." The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the sentencing court's ruling denying Molnar's postjudgment motion for resentencing. View "Washington v. Molnar" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Governor Jay Inslee, the State of Washington, the Washington Department of Corrections, and Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Department of Corrections, sought the Washington Supreme Court's accelerated direct discretionary review of an order of the Franklin County Superior Court denying petitioners’ motion to change venue to Thurston County Superior Court in an action brought by respondent Jeffrey Johnson challenging proclamations the governor issued requiring certain state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, 2021. The merits of the underlying suit were not before the Court. In an order issued on October 11, 2021, the Court determined that mandatory venue for this action was in Thurston County Superior Court under RCW 4.12.020(2), and therefore granted petitioners’ motion for accelerated discretionary review, reversed the order of the Franklin County Superior Court, and remanded to that court with directions to grant petitioners’ motion to change venue without delay. In this opinion, the Court explained the reasoning underlying its order. View "Johnson v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sammy Weaver was charged with one count of residential burglary under RCW 9A.52.025. In the jury instructions, the parties agreed to include the lesser included offense of criminal trespass in the first degree. At trial, Weaver was found guilty of only the lesser charge of criminal trespass in the first degree. On appeal, Weaver alleged the jury instruction for knowledge conflicted with the instruction for trespass, relieving the State of its burden of proving each element of criminal trespass beyond a reasonable doubt. The Washington Supreme Court found Weaver did not invite the error because he did not propose the instruction to which he assigned error, defining “knowledge.” The Court rejected Weaver’s claim on the merits because the jury instructions, when read as a whole, correctly stated the law and did not relieve the State of its burden to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, Weaver’s judgment of conviction was affirmed. View "Washington v. Weaver" on Justia Law