Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Appellant Cynthia Stewart appealed after she was found ineligible for unemployment benefits. Stewart suffered from migraine headaches and took prescription medication to help manage her symptoms. Her former employer fired Stewart after she "came to work impaired due to prescription narcotics for the second time in a six-month period." Stewart's application for unemployment benefits was initially granted, but her former employer appealed, and an administrative law judge reversed. Stewart petitioned for review by the BSD commissioner, who affirmed that Stewart was ineligible for benefits. Stewart's petition was not subject to the procedural statutes in the Employment Security Act (ESA), Title 50, RCW; instead, her petition for judicial review was governed by the procedures listed in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), chapter 34.05 RCW. And pursuant to the APA, Stewart did not timely serve her petition on the ESD. She therefore failed to invoke the superior court's appellate jurisdiction, and the Washington Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly recognized that it was required to dismiss this case. View "Stewart v. Emp't Sec. Dep't" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case concerned a class action insurance claim suit pending in federal court. Plaintiff Brett Durant was a State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company insured, and carried a $35,000 personal injury protection (PIP) rider. In 2012, Durant was injured in a motor vehicle accident; he opened a PIP claim with State Farm. The "coverage letter" advised Durant that "Medical services must also be essential in achieving maximum medical improvement for the injury you sustained in the accident." Durant sought treatment with chiropractor Harold Rasmussen, DC, who diagnosed injuries including sprains to the neck, back, pelvis, and right shoulder. After a shoulder MRI showed a ligament sprain and "a possible small type I SLAP [(superior labral anteroposterior)] tear,"Durant was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed"mild bursitis/tendinitis,"which was treated with physical therapy and cortisone injections. Durant's injuries were not resolved by a date set by his physicians; his providers billed his PIP claims, but State Farm denied them on grounds that Durant had "previously reached maximum medical improvement." The federal district court asked the Washington Supreme Court (1) whether an insurer violates WAC 284-30-395(1)(a) or (b) if that insurer denied or terminated an insured's medical benefits based on a finding of "maximum medical improvement;" and (2) whether the term "maximum medical improvement" was consistent with the definition of "reasonable" or "necessary" as those terms appeared in WAC 284-30-395(1). The Washington Court answered the first certified question "yes." With regard to the second question, the Court found that under the circumstances of this case, the term "maximum medical improvement" was not consistent with the terms "reasonable" or "necessary" as those terms appeared in WAC 284-30-395(1). View "Durant v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether records containing trade secrets were categorically excluded from public disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW. Respondents Lyft Inc. and Rasier LLC operated car-hailing or "transportation networking companies" (TNC) in several locations, including the city of Seattle (City). After the City passed a 2014 ordinance that limited the number of TNC drivers active at any given time, Lyft and Rasier (collectively L/R) organized a coalition to overturn the ordinance through a voter referendum. In response to mediation among the City, L/R, and taxi and for-hire stakeholders in the ground transportation industry, the referendum proposal was withdrawn. The parties agreed that L/R would submit quarterly standardized reports to the City that include the total number of rides, the percentage of rides completed in each zip code, pick-up and drop-off zip codes, the percentage of rides requested but unfulfilled, collision data, and the number of requested rides for accessible vehicles. In response to L/R concerns regarding data confidentiality, a mediation provision stated that "'[t]he city will work to achieve the highest possible level of confidentiality for information provided within the confines of state law.'' In January 2016, appellant Jeff Kirk, a resident of Texas, submitted a PRA request to the City seeking L/R reports for the final two quarters of 2015. Specifically, Kirk sought release of records submitted by L/R to the City as required by SMC 6.310.540, including the percentage and number of rides picked up in each zip code, and the pick-up and drop-off zip codes of each ride. L/R insisted their quarterly zip code reports to the City consisted of trade secrets protected under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA). The Washington Supreme Court held those records were not categorically excluded from disclosure: applying the injunction standard set forth in RCW 42.56.540, such records may be enjoined from disclosure only if disclosure would clearly not be in the public interest, and would substantially and irreparably damage a person or a vital government interest. The superior court erred by applying the general injunction standard of Civil Rule (CR) 65, and by not adequately considering the PRA's more stringent standard. View "Lyft, Inc. v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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Between 1853 and 1995, the Port Gamble Bay facility in Kitsap County, Washington operated as a sawmill and forest products manufacturing facility by Pope & Talbot and its corporate predecessors. Close to four decades after Puget Mill Co., predecessor to Pope & Talbot, began operating the sawmill, the legislature authorized the disposal of certain occupied state-owned aquatic lands, including the tidal lands within Port Gamble Bay. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued the first lease for Pope & Talbot's use of the Port Gamble Bay submerged lands in 1974. In 1985, Pope & Talbot transferred 71,363 acres of its timberlands, timber, land development, and resort businesses in the State of Washington to Pope Resources, LP, which in turn leased the mill area to Pope & Talbot. Pope & Talbot ceased mill operations in 1995. Pope sought to develop their Port Gamble holdings for a large, high-density community with a marina. However, the Port Gamble site was contaminated, in part from the operation of sawmill buildings to saw logs for lumber, operation of chip barge loading facilities and a log-transfer facility, particulate sawmill emissions from wood and wood waste burning, in-water log rafting and storage, and creosote treated pilings placed throughout the bay to facilitate storage and transport of logs and wood products. After entering into a consent decree with the Washington Department of Ecology in 2013 for remediation of portions of the site exposed to hazardous substances, Pope/OPG filed a complaint in 2014 seeking a declaration that DNR was liable for natural resources damages and remedial costs, and for contribution of costs. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of DNR in 2016. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that DNR was an "owner or operator" with potential liability under the Washington Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). DNR appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding DNR was neither an "owner" nor an "operator" of the Port Gamble Bay facility for purposes of MTCA. View "Pope Res., LP v. Dep't of Nat. Res." on Justia Law

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Chem-Safe Environmental was a hazardous waste facility located in Kittitas County. 2002. While inspecting a neighboring facility, James Rivard, the Kittitas County environmental supervisor, and Gary Bleeker, an Ecology employee, saw drums labeled as hazardous waste on property belonging to ChemSafe and ABC Holdings. Rivard learned that Chem-Safe did not hold a permit to handle or store moderate risk waste. Over the next two years, both Kittitas County and Ecology employees visited the Chem-Safe facility together, e-mailed one another about the matter, and met to discuss the progress in bringing Chem-Safe into compliance with state and local regulations. Eventually, Kittitas County issued a "Notice of Violation and Abatement" (NOVA) requiring Chem-Safe to halt operations until it obtained the necessary permits and equipment and conducted contamination testing. Chem-Safe appealed a hearing officer's ruling, which was subsequently affirmed by the superior court and the Court of Appeals. During the course of the litigation, Kittitas County deputy prosecutors sent several e-mails back and forth to Ecology employees. In one of those e-mails, an Ecology employee e-mailed a county deputy prosecutor, asking, "Should these emails be considered attorney-client privileged?" The Kittitas County deputy prosecutor responded, "[Ecology] is not my client (Kittitas County is), therefore, these e-mails are not attorney-client privileged." The assistant attorney general opined there might be other privileges that applied to the e-mails but that she lacked enough information to know the specific options for keeping the e-mails privileged; thus, the record reflected only the parties' understanding of whether Kittitas County and Ecology's communications with one another were attorney-client privileged. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review were two important aspects of the work product doctrine: (1) were the e-mails exchanged between the Kittitas County and the Department of Ecology work product; and (2) if yes, were they discoverable under the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW? The Court held the e-mails were work product because they were prepared by or for Kittitas County in anticipation of litigation. Furthermore, the Court found Kittitas County did not waive its work product protection because disclosure of the e-mails to Ecology never created a significant likelihood that an adversary would also obtain the information. View "Kittitas County v. Allphin" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a city council's restrictive zoning decision was judicially reviewable under chapter 36.70C RCW, the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), where the ordinance targeted a single property with a sole owner and was not an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan. Because such a land use decision was a site-specific rezone and therefore reviewable under LUPA, the Court reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals to proceed on the merits of the city's appeal of the superior court's decision and for other proceedings. View "Schnitzer W., LLC v. City of Puyallup" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case began in 2016 when the two named plaintiffs filed this putative class action lawsuit against Dovex on behalf of Dovex's seasonal and migrant agricultural employees. Each summer, Dovex employs hundreds of seasonal and migrant workers, many of whom speak limited English, to harvest apples, pears, and cherries in Dovex's orchards. The plaintiffs alleged Dovex violated state and federal law by willfully refusing to pay wages and failing to "pay minimum wage, provide paid rest breaks, maintain accurate and adequate time and wage records, pay wages when due, [and] provide accurate statements of hours worked." The federal court asked: (1) whether Washington law requires agricultural employers to pay their pieceworkers for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work); if yes, then how must agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work)? The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question “yes:” agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis. The Court answered the second question posed consistent with the parties’ position: the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work must be calculated at the applicable minimum wage or the agreed rate, whichever was greater. View "Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co." on Justia Law

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This case asked the Washington Supreme Court to clarify the scope of Washington's recreational use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210. Margie Lockner was injured when she fell from her bicycle on a trail maintained by Pierce County (County). Lockner sued the County for negligence. Finding that recreational use immunity precluded her suit because the unintentional injury happened on land open to the public for recreational use without a fee, the trial court dismissed Lockner's claim on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, mistakenly relying on the dissent in the Supreme Court's opinion in Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co., 317 P.3d 987 (2014), holding that a question of fact remained as to whether the trail was open to the public "solely" for recreational use. The Supreme Court reversed, finding RCW 4.24.210 immunity did not require sole recreational use before conferring immunity to landowners, and was not limited to premises liability claims. View "Lockner v. Pierce County" on Justia Law

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In 2008, a Jefferson County Public Transportation Benefit area vehicle collided with Michael Gilmore's vehicle. Gilmore brought a personal jury lawsuit against Jefferson Transit for injuries he allegedly sustained in that collision. At trial, he was awarded $1.2 million for past and future economic losses. Jefferson Transit appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence, barring certain evidence, and in determining Gilmore's counsel's closing arguments did not require a new trial. The Court of Appeals reversed as to all issues Jefferson Transit raised. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion with respect to the evidence admitted at trial, "[w]e will not disturb the trial court's decision unless 'such a feeling of prejudice [has] been engendered or located in the minds of the jury as to prevent a litigant from having a fair trial." With respect to closing arguments, the Supreme Court nothing in the record suggested it was incurably prejudicial. "By rationalizing Gilmore's counsel's statements as 'technique' and failing to object after being given several opportunities, it is clear that Jefferson Transit's counsel perceived no error and was 'gambling on the verdict.'" View "Gilmore v. Jefferson County Pub. Transp. Benefit Area" on Justia Law

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Ricardo and Luz Garcia and Ted and Andean Henley were neighbors in Tieton, Washington. The two families' plots shared a boundary line separated by a fence. The Henleys rebuilt the boundary fence multiple times during the 1990s. Each time, the fence crept farther and farther on to the Garcia property. The largest encroachment, extending a foot across the boundary line, occurred in 1997 while the Garcias were on vacation. The Garcias objected to this intrusion, but took no legal or other action. In 2011, the Henleys again moved the fence. Mr. Garcia placed apple bins along a portion of the 1997 fence to prevent the Henleys from creeping farther onto the property. As a result, the 2011 fence tracked the 1997 fence for that shielded portion, but arced onto the Garcia plot for the 67 feet that did not have apple bins protecting it, encroaching an additional half foot. The Garcias again requested that the Henleys move the fence, and the Henleys refused. The Garcias initiated suit in 2012, seeking ejectment and damages. The Henleys counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title in their name. In closing argument, the Henleys raised the doctrine of "[d]e[m]inimis [e]ncroachment" to argue that any minor deviation from the boundary line of the adversely possessed property should be disregarded. The trial court determined the Henleys adversely possessed the land encompassed by the 1997 fence, but that the 2011 fence encroached an additional 33.5 square feet, and that 2011 sliver had not been adversely possessed. Rather than grant an injunction ordering the Henleys to abate the continuing trespass and move the fence, the trial court ordered the Garcias to sell the 2011 sliver to the Henleys for $500. The Washington Supreme Court found that in exceptional circumstances, when equity so demands, a court may deny an ejectment order and instead compel the landowner to convey a property interest to the encroacher. To support such an order, the court must reason through the elements listed in Arnold v. Melani, 450 P.2d 815 (1968). The burden of showing each element by clear and convincing evidence lied with the encroacher. If not carried, failure to enter an otherwise warranted ejection order is reversible error. The Supreme Court determined the Henleys failed to carry their burden. The matter was reversed and remanded to the trial court; the Garcias were entitled to ejectment as a matter of law. View "Garcia v. Henley" on Justia Law