Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Delaura Norg called 911 seeking emergency medical assistance for her husband, Fred. She gave the 911 dispatcher her correct address, which the dispatcher relayed to emergency responders from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). The Norgs’ apartment building was three blocks away from the nearest SFD station, but it took emergency responders over 15 minutes to arrive. This delay occurred because the SFD units failed to verify the Norgs’ address and, instead, went to a nearby nursing home based on the mistaken assumption that the Norgs lived there. The Norgs sued the City for negligence, alleging that SFD’s delayed response aggravated their injuries. The City pleaded the public duty doctrine as an affirmative defense and both parties moved for summary judgment on the question of duty. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in the Norgs’ favor and struck the City’s affirmative defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory review. The Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court properly granted partial summary judgment to the Norgs on the question of duty. In doing so, the Court expressed no opinion on the remaining elements of the Norgs’ claim (breach, causation, and damages). The Supreme Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Norg v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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Rather than using the insurance agency’s in-house presiding officer, American Property Casualty Insurance Association (Association) requested an adjudicative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) pursuant to RCW 48.04.010(5). The request was denied. The Association sought a writ of mandamus against Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, requiring him to transfer the hearing. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the Association could have sought judicial review by way of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), ch. 34.05 RCW, thus, the Association failed to demonstrate it had “no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy” at law, one of the three requirements for a writ to issue. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition. View "Am. Prop. Cas. Ins. Ass'n v. Kreidler" on Justia Law

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Gregory and Sue Tadych filed suit after the one-year limitation period to bring a construction defect suit expired. The trial court entered summary judgment, dismissing the suit and upholding the contractual limitation. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court found the contractual limitation here was substantively unconscionable and, therefore, void and unenforceable. "The one-year limitation provision provides a substantially shorter limitations period than plaintiffs are otherwise entitled to under RCW 4.16.310 and benefits the contractor at the expense of the rights of the homeowner." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for trial. View "Tadych v. Noble Ridge Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

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Janelle Henderson, a Black woman, and Alicia Thompson, a white woman, were involved in a motor vehicle collision. Thompson admitted fault for the collision but made no offer to compensate Henderson for her injuries. Henderson claimed that her preexisting condition was seriously exacerbated by the collision and sued for damages. During the trial, Thompson’s defense team attacked the credibility of Henderson and her counsel—also a Black woman—in language that called on racist tropes and suggested impropriety between Henderson and her Black witnesses. The jury returned a verdict of only $9,200 for Henderson. Henderson moved for a new trial or additur on the ground that the repeated appeals to racial bias affected the verdict, yet the trial court did not even grant an evidentiary hearing on that motion. The court instead stated it could not “require attorneys to refrain from using language that is tied to the evidence in the case, even if in some contexts the language has racial overtones.” The Washington Supreme Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion by failing to grant an evidentiary hearing and also by failing to impose any sanctions for Thompson’s discovery violations. Judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Henderson v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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This case presented an issue of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court relating to the business records exception to the rule against hearsay: the admissibility of a drug rehabilitation and testing center incident report under RCW 5.45.020. The child in this case, M.R., was removed from her parents’ custody shortly after birth because of her mother’s history of involvement with Child Protective Services for her two older children and the mother’s suspected ongoing substance abuse and mental health problems. In 2017, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) petitioned to terminate the parental rights of M.R.’s father, D.R. Throughout the course of M.R.’s dependency, the juvenile court ordered D.R. to engage in various remedial services designed to correct his perceived parenting deficiencies. One such requirement asked D.R. to provide a urinalysis (UA) sample. D.R. went for the UA test but left without providing a sample. The clinic staff member who monitored the test submitted an incident report, which stated D.R. had been seen attempting to open a UA “device” during the test. The State moved to terminate D.R.’s parental rights, and at the time of the trial, despite several follow-up requests to comply with a UA test, D.R. failed to produce a UA sample. At trial, the incident report was admitted as a business record to show D.R. was caught attempting to use a UA device. In November 2020, D.R.’s parental rights were terminated. He appealed, arguing the judge committed prejudicial error by admitting the incident report as a business record because the observation of the UA device involved a degree of “skill of observation” akin to expert testimony and in excess of the scope of the business records exception. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court determined the judge's decision to admit the incident report met applicable legal standards, and was not manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds. Therefore, the Court found no abuse of discretion and therefore affirmed. View "In re Welfare of M.R." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the partial summary judgment rulings that an “all risk” insurance policy did not provide coverage for certain losses. At issue in WSDOT’s petition for review was whether the loss of use or functionality of the insured property constituted “physical loss” or “physical damage” that triggered coverage. STP’s petition asked whether the insurance policy excluded coverage for damage to the insured property caused by alleged design defects and whether the policy covers delay losses. This case arose out of a major construction project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. In 2011, STP contracted with WSDOT to construct a tunnel to replace the viaduct. The project started in July 2013. A tunnel boring machine (TBM) used in the project stopped working in December 2013, and did not resume until December 2015. The project was unable to continue during the two-year period while the TBM was disassembled, removed, and repaired. STP and WSDOT tendered insurance claims under the Policy. Great Lakes denied coverage, and STP and WSDOT sued the insurers, alleging wrongful denial of their claims. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding that even if it interpreted “direct physical loss or damage” to include loss of use, no coverage under Section 1 is triggered because the alleged loss of use was not caused by a physical condition impacting the insured property. View "Seattle Tunnel Partners v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC" on Justia Law

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King County, Washington petitioned the Washington Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel the presiding judge of Pierce County Superior Court to turn over court reporters’ backup audiotapes and to search court employees’ private files and devices for records responsive to a records request. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition because it failed to demonstrate why the Court should grant the extraordinary remedy: the superior court presiding judge was not the proper subject of a writ of mandamus to turn over audiotapes or other records under GR 31 or GR 31.1. Furthermore, the Court found King County had a plain, speedy and adequate remedy that precluded the issuance of a writ of mandamus. View "King County v. Sorensen" on Justia Law

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Carl Schwartz filed suit against King County, Washington (County) for the catastrophic injuries he suffered when he collided with a bollard the County installed on the Green River Trail. The County moved for summary judgment dismissal, arguing that Washington’s recreational use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210, precluded liability and that the statute’s exception for known dangerous artificial latent conditions did not apply. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment for the County. The Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed summary judgment. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding Schwartz presented evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the bollard was a known dangerous artificial latent condition, so the trial court erred by granting summary judgment for the County. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Schwartz v. King County" on Justia Law

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In early 2020, to help curtail the spread of COVID-19, Washington Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-24 prohibiting non emergency dental care. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on the lost business income from the Proclamation and the interpretation of an insurance contract under which the insurance company covered lost business income for the “direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property” and excluded coverage for loss or damage caused by a “virus.” Drs. Sarah Hill and Joseph Stout were dentists who operated two dental offices under their business Hill and Stout PLLC (HS). HS bought a property insurance policy from Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Company (MOE) that covered business income lost due to “direct physical loss of or damage to” the properties. HS sued MOE for coverage because of its inability to use its offices for nonemergency dental practice under the Proclamation and later amended to add a putative class action. MOE moved to dismiss, arguing that HS failed to show a “direct physical loss of or damage to” the property and that the virus exclusion applied. The trial court denied the motion. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of MOE. “It is unreasonable to read ‘direct physical loss of . . . property’ in a property insurance policy to include constructive loss of intended use of property. Such a loss is not ‘physical.’ Accordingly, the Proclamation did not trigger coverage under the policy.” View "Hill & Stout, PLLC v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Hardel Mutual Plywood Corporation owns property in Lewis County. Hardel challenged the value assessed by the Lewis County assessor, paid its taxes under protest, and brought this refund action in Thurston County Superior Court. Lewis County timely moved for a change of venue under RCW 84.68.050. The issue this case presented concerned two venue statutes that were in tension with each other. Under the more specific statute, property tax refund cases “shall be brought in the superior court of the county wherein the tax was collected.” RCW 84.68.050. Under the more general statute, “[a]ll actions against any county may be commenced in the superior court of such county, or in the superior court of either of the two nearest judicial districts.” RCW 36.01.050(1). The Washington Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended the specific statute to govern. Accordingly, it affirmed the trial court’s order transferring venue to the superior court of the county where the tax was collected. View "Hardel Mut. Plywood Corp. v. Lewis County" on Justia Law