Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries
Washington v. Reynolds
Michael Reynolds Jr. received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole for a crime he committed at age 33. The events triggering that sentence, though, were his two “strikes” under Washington’s “three strikes” law—one of which Reynolds committed at age 17, when he was a juvenile. If Reynolds’ current sentence constituted punishment for his earlier offense committed at age 17, then it would be unconstitutional under case law. But under the Washington Supreme Court’s more recent precedent, his current sentence did not constitute punishment for that prior offense. In Washington v. Moretti, decided two years after Bassett, the Supreme Court held that a “three strikes” sentence of mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole constituted punishment for the last crime or third “strike,” not the earlier first or second “strikes.” “And for years, we have held that our state’s ‘three strikes’ law as applied to adults does not violate article I, section 14.2 That assessment could certainly change over time. But in this case, the parties have not asked us to overrule it.” The Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Reynolds" on Justia Law
Nelson v. P.S.C., Inc.
Plaintiffs Matthew and Melanie Nelson (collectively Nelsons) married in 2020. The following year, defendant Puget Sound Collections Inc. (PSC), a debt collection agency, garnished Matthew’s wages in an attempt to satisfy a 2014 default judgment against him and his former wife, stemming from her medical expenses. The Nelsons argued RCW 26.16.200 required any eligible debt be reduced to judgment within the three years before and the three years after the marriage. In their view, the marital bankruptcy statute barred PSC from garnishing Matthew’s wages because the 2014 judgment was entered too soon and not “within three years” of their 2020 marriage. In contrast, PSC argued “within three years of the marriage” simply meant “not later in time than three years after the marriage.” Under this interpretation, PSC lawfully garnished Matthew’s wages because it reduced the debt to judgment not later than three years after the Nelsons’ marriage. The federal appellate court certified questions of Washington law in this case about the so-called marital bankruptcy statute, RCW 26.16.200. The Washington Supreme Court found that while the Nelsons’ interpretation might hold “some logical appeal, and their situation is certainly sympathetic, only PSC’s interpretation of RCW 26.16.200 effectuates the purpose of the statute to provide limited debt collection relief to diligent creditors.” The Court answered the first and second certified questions based on the statute’s plain language and held that “within” in this context means “not later in time than” three years of the marriage. “This interpretation permits wage garnishment where, as here, the creditor had reduced the debt to judgment more than three years before the marriage.” As to the additional certified question, which asked whether Washington law placed any limitation on the amount of wages subject to garnishment, the Nelsons correctly conceded this issue. The Supreme Court held that where other statutory requirements are met, RCW 26.16.200 permitted a creditor to garnish the entirety of the debtor spouse’s wages. View "Nelson v. P.S.C., Inc." on Justia Law
Stratford v. Umpqua Bank
At issue in this case was the “apex doctrine” which shielded certain high-ranking officials from deposition unless the proponent could first show that the witness had personal knowledge of the facts and that a less intrusive means of discovery had been unsuccessful. Respondents Heather Stratford and William Geibel Jr. (collectively Stratford) sued petitioner Umpqua Bank and its loan officer for negligent hiring and fraud, among other claims. After written discovery, Stratford sought to depose three high-level Umpqua executives. Umpqua moved for a protective order, arguing the executives had no personal knowledge and the apex doctrine shielded them from deposition. The trial court denied the motion. The Washington Supreme Court granted Umpqua’s petition for review to decide whether Washington did or should follow the apex doctrine. To this, the Court answered in the negative: the apex doctrine had not been adopted in Washington State, and the Court declined to adopt it because it improperly shifted the burden of proof in violation of Washington discovery rules, and undermined the right of access to courts. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Umpqua’s protective order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stratford v. Umpqua Bank" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure
Snaza v. Washington
Following waves of protests across the country calling for racial justice and reform of police practices, the Washington Legislature enacted several statutes in 2021 establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers. This case concerned article XI, section 5 of the Washington Constitution and the constitutionality of RCW 10.116.030(3)(a), which required sheriffs of non charter counties receive authorization from the chair of the board of county commissioners prior to deploying tear gas in response to a riot. The trial court on motion for summary judgment, held that the statute violated article XI, section 5 by interfering with the sheriff’s core functions. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Snaza v. Washington" on Justia Law
Wolf v. Washington
At issue in this case is the triggering event for the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse actions. Timothy Jones’ estate (Estate) brought negligence and wrongful death claims against the State of Washington. Timothy was born to Jaqueline Jones in 1990. In 2003, Jacqueline lost her home to foreclosure, and Timothy moved in with Price Nick Miller Jr., a family friend. A month later, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) was alerted that Miller was paying too much attention to children who were not his own. After investigating the report, DCYF removed Timothy from Miller’s home based on this inappropriate behavior. In November 2003, Timothy was placed in foster care and DCYF filed a dependency petition. Timothy’s dependency case was dismissed in 2006. Later that year, Timothy told a counselor that Miller had abused him sexually, physically, and emotionally from 1998 to 2006. In 2008, Miller pleaded guilty to second degree child rape connected to his abuse of Timothy and second degree child molestation related to another child. In 2007 or 2008, Jacqueline sued Miller on Timothy’s behalf. The attorney did not advise Timothy or his mother that there may be a lawsuit against the State or that the State may be liable for allowing Miller’s abuse to occur. Sometime in mid-2017, and prompted by a news story about childhood sexual abuse, Timothy and a romantic parter Jimmy Acevedo discussed whether Timothy may have a claim against the State. Acevedo recommended that Timothy consult a lawyer. In fall 2017, Timothy contacted a firm that began investigating Timothy’s case. In June 2018, Timothy committed suicide. Jacqueline was appointed personal representative of Timothy’s estate and filed claims for negligence, negligent investigation, and wrongful death against the State. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court concluded the statute of limitations for negligence claims begins when a victim recognizes the causal connection between the intentional abuse and their injuries. The court granted summary judgment for the State and dismissed the Estate’s claims as time barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding no evidence was presented that Timothy made the causal connection between that alleged act and his injuries until August or September 2017, and the Estate filed its claims on March 12, 2020, within RCW 4.16.340(1)(c)’s three-year time period. View "Wolf v. Washington" on Justia Law
Wahkiakum Sch. Dist. No. 200 v. Washington
In this action, the Wahkiakum School District (WSD) alleged the State of Washington “fail[ed] to amply fund the [WSD]’s needed facilities [and] infrastructure.” WSD argued that this failure violated the Washington Constitution, article IX, section 1. The complaint explained the impact of this lack of ample funding for facilities and infrastructure: “The [WSD] is a poor, rural school district located along the banks of the Columbia River. It has less than 500 students. Approximately 57% of its students are low income. It has less than 3500 registered voters. And the per capita income of its voters is approximately $29,000.” Specifically, the WSD requested that the State pay the cost of rebuilding its elementary, middle, and high schools; it estimated more than $50 million in construction costs. The State moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim (CR 12(b)(6)) and for lack of jurisdiction (CR 12(b)(1)). In support of its motion, the State argued, “[F]unding for school construction and other capital expenditures is governed by entirely different constitutional and statutory provisions that primarily look to local school districts themselves, with the State providing funding assistance. As such, WSD fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted . . . .” It also argued that the court could not award monetary damages because the legislature has not created a private right of action and monetary damages would violate separation of powers principles. The WSD conceded that it failed to file a tort claim form and thus that its claim for monetary damages was barred. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded the constitution did not include capital construction costs within the category of “education” costs for which the State alone must make “ample provision.” The Court thus affirmed the trial court's decision to grant the motion to dismiss. View "Wahkiakum Sch. Dist. No. 200 v. Washington" on Justia Law
Washington v. Westwood
Dahndre Westwood entered A.B.’s house around 4:30 a.m. A.B. saw Westwood standing in her hallway and holding a knife in his hand. Westwood told her to get undressed and threatened to kill her if she did not cooperate. A.B. screamed for help and pleaded for her life; she clawed at Westwood and knocked the knife out of his hand. During the struggle, Westwood nicked A.B. with the knife, leaving a scar on her cheek. Westwood choked and suffocated A.B. to muffle her screams for help and hit her repeatedly on the head. Several cars passed A.B.’s house while this transpired, and the headlights shone in the window. Westwood stopped his assault after the second or third set of headlights passed. He threatened A.B. that if she told anyone about the assault he would come back to kill her. Westwood then ran into the living room and out the front door. A.B. called 911 and was taken to the hospital by first responders shortly after. A jury convicted Westwood of attempted rape in the first degree, assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, and burglary in the first degree. At sentencing, Westwood argued that his convictions encompassed the same criminal conduct for scoring purposes. The State disagreed and asked the court to apply the analysis from Washington v. Chenoweth, 370 P.3d 6 (2016). The trial court determined that the three convictions did not constitute the same criminal conduct because each of the crimes required a different statutory intent. Westwood appealed, arguing that Washington v. Dunaway, 743 P.2d 1237, 749 P.2d 160 (1987) controlled. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for determination of whether the convictions encompassed the same criminal conduct under the analysis of Dunaway. Some lower courts found conflict between the analysis in Dunaway and that in Chenoweth. The Washington Supreme Court took the opportunity to provide guidance on the relationship between these cases and found no conflict existed. Here, the objective statutory intent analysis was the proper test. The Court affirmed the sentencing court’s decision and reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Westwood" on Justia Law
Dalton M, LLC v. N. Cascade Tr. Servs., Inc.
U.S. Bank National Association foreclosed on property owned by real estate company Dalton M, LLC. The bank did not have the right to do that: Dalton M actually owned the property outright, not subject to any lien. Dalton M ended up suing U.S. Bank to quiet title and for damages for slander of title. Dalton M prevailed at trial on both of those claims. The trial court also awarded substantial fees to Dalton M based on the slander of title claim. The Court of Appeals reversed on that claim, holding that Dalton M had failed to prove its “pending sale” element, which wiped out the sole basis for the trial court's fee award. Instead, the Court of Appeals awarded fees to Dalton M on an entirely new theory that no party had pleaded or argued to the trial court and that the trial court had never considered: the theory that U.S. Bank had engaged in extensive prelitigation bad faith conduct not amounting to violation or contempt of any court order or ruling, and that this provided a new equitable exception to Washington’s general rule that each party must bear their own costs of suit. The Washington Supreme Court determined the appellate court's decision violated both the Rules of Appellate Procedure (RAPs) and Washington controlling precedent. The Court of Appeals violated these rules: it sua sponte raised a new issue that was more like an unpleaded claim, that new issue was distinct from issues or theories raised before, resolution of that new issue was not necessary to resolve the questions presented about the claims actually pleaded, and resolution of that new issue depended on facts that the parties never had a chance to develop at trial. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals’ award of attorney fees. View "Dalton M, LLC v. N. Cascade Tr. Servs., Inc." on Justia Law
Wash. Fed’n of State Emps., Council 28, v. State
Petitioner the Freedom Foundation requested the identities and workplace contact information for Washington state public employees. To prevent disclosure of this information, affected employees sought declaratory and injunctive relief through the Washington State Federation of State Employees and other labor unions (Unions). The Unions alleged their members, who were victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, and harassment, possessed a constitutional liberty interest in personal security that the government would violate by releasing the requested information. The courts below agreed. On appeal, the Foundation argued no such fundamental right existed, the Unions lacked standing, and the Unions failed to bring justiciable claims. During the course of this case, the Washington State Legislature enacted a law exempting the requested information from disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW. The Washington Supreme Court held the Unions had standing and brought justiciable claims on behalf of their members. However, the Unions did not demonstrate particularized harm to affected public employees; therefore, they did not satisfy the PRA injunction standard. The Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals on these grounds. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ ruling on declaratory relief because this matter could be resolved on nonconstitutional grounds. Accordingly, the Court remanded this case to the superior court to apply the new statutory exemption. View "Wash. Fed'n of State Emps., Council 28, v. State" on Justia Law
Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Olympic Game Farm, Inc.
The United States District Court certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court, asking whether a violation of Washington’s animal protection laws could establish a claim for a public nuisance, absent an indication that the legislature so intended and absent a showing that the violation interfered with the use and enjoyment of property or was injurious to public health and safety. The case was brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) against the Olympic Game Farm Inc. (OGF). ALDF argued OGF violated Washington’s wildlife laws, animal cruelty laws, and both the Washington and federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, thus creating a public nuisance. OGF argued ALDF had no valid legal claim for public nuisance because ALDF did not demonstrate any wildlife statutes have been violated. Even if ALDF could prove such a violation, the Washington Supreme Court determined the state legislature has not named such violations a nuisance nor has ALDF demonstrated that a property interference or threat to public health and safety has occurred. Based on Washington case law and statutory definitions of public nuisance, and the lack of any indication in case law or statute that violation of animal protection laws has been declared a nuisance, the Supreme Court answered the federal court's certified question in the negative. View "Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Olympic Game Farm, Inc." on Justia Law