Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
Pacific Lutheran Univ. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London
In this case before the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, a consortium of over 130 institutions of higher education sued a group of 16 insurance carriers for denying their COVID-19 related claims. The insurance carriers had issued identical “all risk” property insurance policies to the institutions via the Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators Inc. (EIIA). The colleges, including three in Washington, filed the suit in Pierce County Superior Court, Washington, seeking a declaratory judgment that their COVID-19 related losses were covered under the insurance policies. However, two of the defendant insurers filed a similar suit in Illinois, seeking a declaratory judgment that the losses were not covered by the policies.The insurers argued that the Washington court should dismiss the case based on forum non conveniens, asserting that Illinois was a more convenient forum due to the geographical distribution of the colleges. They also argued that the Illinois action should be allowed to proceed. The colleges, on the other hand, argued that the insurance policies' "suit against the company" clause allowed them to choose the forum and prohibited the insurers from seeking to alter that choice.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed the lower court's decision, denying the motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds and issuing an injunction against further proceedings in the Illinois action. The court held that the insurers had contractually agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of any court chosen by the insured and could not seek to transfer, change venue, or remove any lawsuit filed by the insured in such a court. The court also found that an injunction was appropriate under the circumstances to protect the colleges' contractual rights and prevent a manifest wrong and injustice. View "Pacific Lutheran Univ. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's London" on Justia Law
Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc.
In Washington State, a second-tier subcontractor, Velazquez Framing LLC, was not paid for the work it did on property owned by Cascadia Homes Inc., a general contracting company. High End Construction LLC, who had been contracted by Cascadia, subcontracted the work to Velazquez without informing Cascadia. After completing the work, Velazquez filed a lien for labor and materials without giving prelien notice, which resulted in a dispute over whether prelien notice was required for labor liens under Chapter 60.04 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that, based on the plain language of the relevant statutes and legislative history, prelien notice is not required for labor liens. The court noted that while Velazquez could not lien for its materials and equipment without providing prelien notice, it could lien for its labor. The case was remanded to the trial court to determine the value of the labor performed. The court's decision reversed the rulings of the Court of Appeals and the trial court, both of which had concluded that prelien notice was required. View "Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc." on Justia Law
Crossroads Mgmt., LLC v. Ridgway
In Washington, a couple, the Lewises, moved into a rental property owned by another couple, the Ridgways. After the Lewises moved out, a dispute arose over the return of their security deposit. The Ridgways claimed the Lewises caused damage to the property and deducted repair costs from the deposit. The Lewises disputed these charges, and the case was sent to arbitration. During arbitration, the Lewises were awarded the full amount of their security deposit, but the Ridgways were given attorney fees under the small claims statute. The Lewises attempted to appeal the arbitration award and a pre-arbitration order granting partial summary judgment to the Ridgways. However, the Lewises did not personally sign their request for a trial de novo, a requirement under court rules and the arbitration statute.The Washington Supreme Court held that the Lewises' request for a trial de novo was ineffective because they did not personally sign the request, as required by the court rule and the arbitration statute. The court also held that, absent a valid request for a trial de novo, the Lewises could not appeal the pre-arbitration order granting partial summary judgment to the Ridgways. The court further stated that the question of who should be considered the prevailing party for the purpose of any attorney fee award needed further consideration, and remanded the case back to the lower court for determination of attorney fees. View "Crossroads Mgmt., LLC v. Ridgway" on Justia Law
DeSean v. Sanger
Carmella DeSean sought a Sexual Assault Protection Order Act (SAPOA) order against Isaiah Sanger after an evening of drinking ended in unwanted sex. At the evidentiary hearing, Sanger argued DeSean consented and had capacity to do so. The trial court found DeSean lacked capacity due to intoxication, declined to consider Sanger’s defense, and granted the SAPO. Sanger appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that under the SAPOA and Nelson v. Duvall, 387 P.3d 1158 (2017), the trial court should have considered Sanger’s affirmative defense. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that the SAPOA did not permit respondents in nonconsensual sexual penetration cases to raise the affirmative defense that they reasonably believed the victim had capacity to consent. "The plain language of the statute is unambiguous and omits affirmative defenses. The SAPOA functions independently from the criminal code, and we decline to graft a criminal defense into a statute intended to provide sexual assault victims with civil remedies." View "DeSean v. Sanger" 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
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
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
Wright v. 3M Co.
Plaintiff, an invitee, was allegedly injured by exposure to asbestos on the defendant landowner’s property. The landowner, petitioner ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (Mobil), requested a jury instruction to limit its potential liability for injuries caused by “known or obvious” dangers pursuant to § 343A of Restatement (Second) of Torts (Am. L. Inst. 1965). The trial court declined to give the § 343A instruction, and the jury issued a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Mobil argued that the jury should have been instructed on both §§ 343 and 343A of the Restatement as a matter of law. According to Mobil, an instruction on § 343A was necessary to make the jury instructions complete and to allow Mobil to argue its theory of the case. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed: “it is well established that the issuance of jury instructions is ‘within the trial court’s discretion’ and that instructions on ‘a party’s theory of the case’ are not ‘required’ unless they are supported by ‘substantial evidence.’” View "Wright v. 3M Co." on Justia Law