Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether the penalty for intentionally concealing the source of political contributions could be based on the amount concealed. Washington voters proposed and passed Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA or act), ch. 42.17A RCW. The FCPA compels disclosure and “compelled disclosure may encroach on First Amendment rights by infringing on the privacy of association and belief.” In 2012, California voters were presented with Proposition 37, which would have required some manufacturers to disclose whether packaged food contained genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and many of its member companies successfully campaigned against Proposition 37, and some received negative responses from the public for doing so. In the wake of the Proposition 37 campaign, Washington sponsors filed Initiative 522, which also would have required GMO labels on packaged food. And like Proposition 37, GMA opposed it. GMA raised more than $14 million to oppose GMO labeling efforts. GMA in turn contributed $11 million to the “No on 522” campaign from the Defense of Brands strategic account. Despite its political activities in Washington, GMA did not register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and did not make any PDC reports until after this lawsuit was filed. In response to the suit, GMA registered “under duress” but, as of the time of trial, still had not filed all of the required reports. The State sued, contending that GMA intentionally, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated the FCPA. The trial court specifically rejected testimony from GMA officers that they had not intended to violate the law, finding “it is not credible that GMA executives believed that shielding GMA’s members as the true source of contributions to GMA’s Defense of Brands Account was legal.” A majority of the Washington Supreme Court concluded GMA did not show that the trial court erred in imposing a punitive sanction under the FCPA based on the amount intentionally concealed. The Court thus affirmed the courts below and remanded for any further proceedings necessary. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Glacier Northwest Inc. claimed the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174 (Local 174) was liable for concrete product loss during a strike and for an alleged misrepresentation by a union representative that Glacier claims interfered with its ability to service a concrete mat pour. The trial court ruled the strike-related claims were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and granted summary judgment for Local 174 on the misrepresentation claims. Glacier appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed on the preemption issue but affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the misrepresentation claims. The Washington Supreme Court granted review and accepted amicus curiae briefing from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, to address whether an employer’s state tort claims against its truck drivers’ union were preempted by the NLRA, and whether any claims that were not preempted were properly dismissed by the trial court. The Supreme Court concluded the NLRA preempted Glacier’s tort claims related to the loss of its concrete product because that loss was incidental to a strike arguably protected by federal law. The Court also affirmed the dismissal of Glacier’s misrepresentation claims because the union representative’s promise of future action was not a statement of existing fact on which those claims could be properly based, and because the statement was not a proximate cause of Glacier’s losses. View "Glacier Nw., Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters Local Union No. 174" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court was whether a tenant in a fixed-term commercial lease could become a holdover tenant when the tenancy ends pursuant to an early termination provision. The tenant here argued that this unlawful detainer provision applied only when the tenant remained after the end of the original term specified in the lease. To this, the Supreme Court disagreed: in this case, exercising the no-fault early termination provision in the lease revised the term of the lease, and the term expired on the revised termination date. Therefore, the tenant became a holdover tenant under RCW 59.12.030(1) when they continued in possession of the leased premises after that date. View "Spokane Airport Bd. v. Experimental Aircraft Ass'n, Chapter 79" on Justia Law

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Lake Hills Investments LLC sued AP Rushforth (AP) for breach of contract, alleging, among other things, that the work AP conducted on the Lake Hills Village project was defective. AP counterclaimed that Lake Hills underpaid them. At trial, an affirmative defense instruction (jury instruction 9) was given, stating that “AP has the burden to prove that Lake Hills provided the plans and specifications for an area of work at issue, that AP followed those plans and specifications, and that the [construction] defect resulted from defects in the plans or specifications. If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that this affirmative defense has been proved for a particular area, then your verdict should be for AP as to that area.” The Court of Appeals held that this instruction understated AP’s burden of proof and allowed the jury to find that if any part of the construction defect resulted from Lake Hills’ plans and specifications, then the jury could find for AP. The court concluded that the error was not harmless, reversed, and remanded for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding that although jury instruction 9 had the potential to mislead the jury, Lake Hills could not show it was prejudiced. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the appellate court to consider issues related to the trial court's award of attorney fees. View "Lake Hills Invs., LLC v. Rushforth Constr. Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit certified several questions of law to the Washington Supreme Court. When the homeowner failed to insure his property, the mortgage servicer purchased insurance to cover the property pursuant to the mortgage agreement - known as “force placed insurance” or “lender placed insurance.” The policy was underwritten by the insurers and passed through a broker to the mortgage servicer. The homeowner claimed that these parties participated in an unlawful kickback scheme that artificially inflated the premiums. In Washington, insurers must generally file their rates and receive approval from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) before selling insurance. Once the rates are filed and approved by the governing agency, the rates were “per se reasonable” and claims that run squarely against these rates had to be dismissed (known as the "filed rate doctrine”). While the filed rate doctrine historically applied to shield entities that file rates, the Washington Court was asked whether the filed rate doctrine also applied to bar suit against intermediaries who did not file rates: the mortgage servicer (Nationstar Mortgage LLC) and broker (Harwood Service Company) who participated in the procurement of the policy from the insurers. If the filed rate doctrine applied to these intermediaries, the Supreme Court was then asked to determine whether damages would be barred under Washington's only case applying the doctrine, McCarthy Fin., Inc. v. Premera, 1347 P.3d 872 (2015). The Washington Supreme Court held that the filed rate doctrine had to also apply to bar suit against intermediaries where awarding damages or other relief would squarely attack the filed rate. In light of this holding, the Court returned the second question pertaining to damages to the Ninth Circuit to first revisit and apply McCarthy to the specific allegations of the appellant-homeonwer's outstanding claims. View "Alpert v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC" on Justia Law

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Kent Turner suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), which caused loss of his motor skills. When his wife, Kathy Turner, could not, due to her own health issues, provide necessary in-home assistance, Kent moved into a nursing home and then into an apartment, where he died in a fire. Kent’s estate, through Kathy Turner, sued the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging (LMTAAA) (the area agency on aging) with case management responsibilities for Kent’s care, for negligence and for abuse or neglect. DSHS and LMTAAA moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court ruled that no special relationship was formed and only an ordinary duty of care was owed. The trial court further held that no breach occurred and causation was lacking. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the claims against DSHS and LMTAAA. View "Turner v. Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs." on Justia Law

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The issue central to this appeal centered on a “covenant judgment” arrangement: an insured defendant, facing suit by a plaintiff, settles claims without the insurer’s consent in exchange for a release from liability and assignment of potential bad faith claims against the insurer to the plaintiff. If the trial court deems the settlement reasonable, that settlement amount becomes the presumptive measure of damages in the later bad faith action brought by the plaintiff against the insurer. Insurer Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters (Cincinnati), challenged the trial court’s order approving as reasonable a $1.7 million settlement between plaintiffs, Anna and Jeffrey Wood (Woods), and Cincinnati’s insureds, Milionis Construction Inc. (MCI) and Stephen Milionis. A divided Court of Appeals held the trial court abused its discretion because the reasonableness finding credited a defense expert’s evaluation of contract damages at $1.2 million despite other evidence in the record suggesting the defense’s evaluation of damages never rose above $399,000. The Washington Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court’s order. The Supreme Court found the trial court properly conducted the reasonableness hearing and evaluated the varied and conflicting evidence of contract damages. In addition, the court appropriately considered damages for plaintiffs’ extracontractual claims as well as allowable attorney fees. "In finding an abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeals majority misapprehended parts of the record and substituted its assessment of the competing damages evaluations for the trial court’s assessment." View "Wood v. Milionis Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

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Antonia Nyman was renting a backyard cottage to Dan Hanley when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She sought to evict Hanley and gave him 60 days’ notice of her intention to move into the unit herself. Due to this unprecedented pandemic, Washington Governor Jay Inslee temporarily halted most evictions, but not for landlords seeking to occupy the unit personally. A federal eviction moratorium imposed by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also temporarily halted some evictions, but not for tenants who have violated a contractual obligation (with certain specified exceptions). The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Hanley violated a contractual obligation by holding over in his unit after his lease expired by its terms. Based on undisputed facts before us, the Court held that he did. "While the CDC order may be more protective than Washington’s eviction proclamation in some instances, it does not apply here. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court and lift the stay of the writ of restitution." View "Nyman v. Hanley" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this case to address a concern about inconsistent practices among the three divisions of the Washington Court of Appeals in creating case titles in dependency and termination proceedings. Inconsistency in the use of parties’ names in such case titles has been an issue among Washington appellate courts. While all three divisions generally use initials in place of children’s names, Division One routinely added parents’ full names to case titles along with their designation as “appellant.” Division Two often changed case titles to designate appealing parents, but used parents’ initials rather than their names. And Division Three typically did not include the names or initials of appealing parents. In this case, Division One followed its typical practice by changing the case title from that created in the superior court to add the mother’s full name and replace the child’s name with initials, while retaining the child’s birth date. The Supreme Court concluded this practice was inconsistent with RAP 3.4 and the 2018 Court of Appeals General Order. Accordingly, the case was remanded with instructions for the Court of Appeals to revise the case title in accordance with the court rule and general order. View "In re Welfare of K.D." on Justia Law

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Doy Coogan died of peritoneal mesothelioma after years of asbestos exposure through his automotive repair work and excavation business. A jury unanimously found Genuine Parts Company (GPC) and National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) liable for Coogan’s wrongful death and entered an $81.5 million verdict for his family and estate. GPC and NAPA moved for a new trial or alternatively a remittitur of damages, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in part and vacated the jury’s damages award. Though it rejected claims for a new trial premised on alleged misconduct by plaintiff’s counsel, it concluded that the trial court erred by excluding one of GPC and NAPA’s expert witnesses and that the jury’s award was excessive. Specifically, the Court of Appeals rejected the jury’s award of noneconomic damages in favor of its own “necessarily . . . subjective” determination that the amount of damages was “so excessive that it shock[ed] the court’s conscience.” The Washington Supreme Court granted review to address the appropriate standards for reviewing post-trial motions to set aside jury verdicts. "While appellate review serves an essential purpose in safeguarding the integrity of the jury process, it must remain limited." The Court concluded the Court of Appeals overstepped its limited role and inappropriately substituted its own judgment for that of the trial court and the jury. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the jury's verdict was reinstated in full. View "Coogan v. Genuine Parts Co." on Justia Law