Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The issue this appeal presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a city ordinance requiring guns be safely kept and out of unauthorized hands, was preempted by state law. After robust debate following a mass shooting at the nearby Marysville Pilchuck High School, the Edmonds City Council adopted an ordinance requiring residents to safely store their firearms when not in use. At around the same time, Washington voters enacted Initiative 1639, which, among many other things, criminalized unsafe storage of firearms but in more limited circumstances than Edmonds’ ordinance. The initiative specifically did not “mandate[] how or where a firearm must be stored.” The Supreme Court determined the local ordinance was indeed preempted by the state law. View "Bass v. City of Edmonds" on Justia Law

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RCW 49.60.227 permitted a court to strike a racially restrictive, legally unenforceable covenant from the public records and eliminate the covenant from the title. This case concerned what under the statute, striking from the public records and eliminating from the title meant, and whether a court order declaring the covenant struck and void was all that was required or allowed. Alex May sought a declaratory action under former RCW 49.60.227 (2006) to have a racially restrictive covenant voided and physically removed from the title to his property and from the public records. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals concluded that the statute at issue did not allow the physical removal of the covenant from the title but, instead, allowed only for an order voiding the covenant to be filed with the title. In the interim, the legislature amended RCW 49.60.227, clarifying the procedure under which these covenants were struck and eliminated. The Washington Supreme Court held that the interim amendments in Laws of 2021, chapter 256, section 4 applied, and therefore the Supreme Court did not address the statute under which May initially sought to have the covenants removed. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the trial court for relief under Laws of 2021, chapter 256, section 4. View "In re That Portion of Lots 1 & 2" on Justia Law

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James Hamre died when an Amtrak train derailed in Dupont, Washington, in 2017. He was survived by his mother, who lived with him, and three adult siblings. Under the wrongful death statutes in effect at the time, James’ mother could recover for his wrongful death because she was dependent on him, while his siblings could recover nothing because they did not rely on James financially. The wrongful death beneficiary statute in effect at that time also denied any recovery to beneficiaries like parents or siblings if they did not reside in the United States. In 2018, one of James’ brothers, acting as his personal representative, agreed to a settlement and release with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (aka Amtrak), on behalf of their mother, the only then qualifying wrongful death beneficiary. In 2019, the Washington Legislature amended RCW 4.20.020 to remove the requirement that second tier beneficiaries (parents and siblings) be both dependent on the decedent and residents of the United States. It explicitly stated that the amendment should apply retroactively to claims that were not time barred. In 2020, James’ siblings who qualified as beneficiaries under the revised statute brought wrongful death actions against Amtrak. Amtrak argued that retroactive application would violate its contracts clause and due process rights under the Washington Constitution. The federal district court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court to address the issue of retroactivity, and the Supreme Court concluded the Washington State Legislature intended the 2019 amendments to RCW 4.20.020 to apply retroactively to permit newly qualified second tier beneficiaries to assert wrongful death claims that were not time barred. View "Kellogg v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp." on Justia Law

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Matt Surowiecki Sr. sued the Hat Island Community Association (HICA), arguing that HICA violated its governing documents by not charging assessments on an equitable basis. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded HICA’s governing documents granted the association broad discretion in setting assessments, and that the association’s decision on assessments was entitled to substantial deference. Here, the association’s elected board of trustees made the decision to raise funds through a combination of use-based fees and per-lot assessments as authorized in its governing documents. This decision was ratified by a vote of the members. Surowiecki’s evidence established, at most, that there might be more than one equitable way to distribute the costs of maintaining the community’s obligations. He did not show, however, shown as a matter of law that either the process used, or the result reached, was not equitable. View "Bangerter v. Hat Island Cmty. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Lori Shavlik sought to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. Her petition was the fourth to recall Sheriff Fortney since he took office on January 1, 2020. As the fourth attempt to recall Sheriff Fortney, the charges in Shavlik’s current petition overlapped with charges brought in previous recall petitions. Shavlik raised three issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred by finding charges 3 through 8 insufficient; (2) the trial court erred by finding charges 1(e) and 2 barred under res judicata; and (3) the trial court and the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office deprived her of a fair and impartial hearing. After review, the Washington Supreme Court rejected all three claims of error, affirmed the trial court, and awarded Sheriff Fortney costs on appeal. View "In re Recall of Fortney" on Justia Law

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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