Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The case revolves around Jack Potter, a man who lived in a 23-foot travel trailer hitched to his truck, which he parked on public lots and streets in the city of Lacey, Washington. In 2019, the city passed an ordinance barring people from parking such large vehicles and trailers on public lots and streets for more than four hours per day. The city then ordered Potter to move his trailer and truck off the city hall parking lot and off Lacey streets. Potter sued the city, claiming that its new ordinance violated his state constitutional “right to reside,” which he argued was inherent in the state constitutional right to intrastate travel.The case was initially filed in Thurston County Superior Court but was later moved to the federal district court for the Western District of Washington. The district court granted summary judgment to the city on nearly all of its claims, including Potter’s state right to intrastate travel claim. The court explained that the ordinance did not fundamentally impede the right to exist or reside in a given area. It was a parking ordinance applicable to all people in Lacey, and only by extension did it restrict the manner in which a person could live in Lacey. The right to travel did not include a right to live in a certain manner.The case was then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which certified questions of state law to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. The Supreme Court held that the RV parking ordinance did not violate Potter’s claimed Washington State constitutional right to intrastate travel. Potter had not established that his claimed right to reside was inherent in a Washington state constitutional right to intrastate travel or that it protected his preferred method of residing in Lacey: by siting his 23-foot trailer on a public street in violation of generally applicable parking ordinances. View "Potter v. City of Lacey" on Justia Law

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The Washington State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the city of Sunnyside and several of its officials, alleging that the city's crime-free rental housing program (CFRHP) was being used to evict tenants without due process and that these evictions disproportionately impacted Latinx renters, women-headed households, and families with minor children. The city argued that the Attorney General lacked the authority to bring this suit, as the scope of the Attorney General's authority under RCW 43.10.030(1) limits their ability to act to matters that impact more people than those affected by the CFRHP. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Washington reversed and remanded the case. The court held that the Attorney General did have the authority to bring the suit, as the case involved matters of public concern in which the state had an interest. The court also found that there were genuine disputes of material fact regarding whether the city's enforcement of the CFRHP had a disparate impact on protected classes, and whether the individual respondents were entitled to qualified immunity. However, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the Attorney General's claims under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, finding that the respondents were not landlords and therefore the Act did not apply to them. View "State v. City of Sunnyside" on Justia Law

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The case involves an action filed by Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Lawrence Haskell against Jilma Meneses, the secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The Prosecutor sought a writ of mandamus directing Meneses to comply with statutory duties under chapter 10.77 RCW and timely provide competency services in criminal proceedings. The case specifically concerned three categories of Spokane County defendants in felony criminal proceedings ordered to receive competency services from DSHS.Previously, a class action was filed in federal court, challenging DSHS's delays in providing competency services to criminal defendants in pretrial custody. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington held these delays violated the class members’ due process rights and issued a permanent injunction against DSHS. The injunction set strict time limits for providing competency services to defendants in pretrial custody, appointed a special court monitor, and began oversight of DSHS’s efforts to comply with the injunction.In the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, DSHS argued that the court must dismiss the petition for lack of original jurisdiction because the secretary is not a state officer within the meaning of the state constitution. The court agreed with DSHS, concluding that the secretary is not a state officer. The court reasoned that a state officer must be elected, subject to impeachment, and granted a State sovereign power, none of which applied to the secretary. Therefore, the court dismissed the petition for writ of mandamus. View "Spokane County v. Meneses" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Washington was required to make a decision on a case involving a high school student, M.G., who was expelled on an emergency basis by Yakima School District No. 7 (the District). The District later extended the expulsion to a long-term suspension without providing M.G. with the statutorily required procedural protections. The Court of Appeals found that M.G. was indefinitely suspended in violation of his statutory procedural rights and reversed the dismissal of M.G.’s suit by the superior court.M.G., a high school student, had previously signed a behavior agreement, or “gang contract." He was expelled from school for violating this contract and for his involvement in an altercation with another student. The District converted M.G.’s 10-day emergency expulsion into a long-term suspension. M.G. was later enrolled in an online learning program, which did not meet his academic needs.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington agreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that the District’s decision was disciplinary and that M.G. had a right to due process, which was violated. The court determined that under RCW 28A.600.015(1) and WAC 392-400-430(8), M.G. was entitled to return to his regular educational setting following the conclusion of his suspension. The court also found compensatory education to be a potential equitable remedy for violations of student disciplinary statutes and regulations. The case was remanded to the superior court to determine the appropriate remedy. View "M.G. v. Yakima Sch. Dist. No. 7" on Justia Law

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Petitioner the Freedom Foundation requested the identities and workplace contact information for Washington state public employees. To prevent disclosure of this information, affected employees sought declaratory and injunctive relief through the Washington State Federation of State Employees and other labor unions (Unions). The Unions alleged their members, who were victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, and harassment, possessed a constitutional liberty interest in personal security that the government would violate by releasing the requested information. The courts below agreed. On appeal, the Foundation argued no such fundamental right existed, the Unions lacked standing, and the Unions failed to bring justiciable claims. During the course of this case, the Washington State Legislature enacted a law exempting the requested information from disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW. The Washington Supreme Court held the Unions had standing and brought justiciable claims on behalf of their members. However, the Unions did not demonstrate particularized harm to affected public employees; therefore, they did not satisfy the PRA injunction standard. The Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals on these grounds. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ ruling on declaratory relief because this matter could be resolved on nonconstitutional grounds. Accordingly, the Court remanded this case to the superior court to apply the new statutory exemption. View "Wash. Fed'n of State Emps., Council 28, v. State" on Justia Law

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In federal court, Plaintiff Timothy Martin sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) and three DOC-employed medical providers, alleging Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and medical malpractice under state law. Following the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the federal district court certified three questions of Washington state law to the Washington Supreme Court, all relating to whether RCW 7.70.150’s requirement of a certificate of merit for medical malpractice suits against state agents was constitutional. The Washington Court held that RCW 7.70.150 was invalid on its face based on Putman v. Wenatchee Valley Med. Ctr., PS, 216 P.3d 374 (2009), and on statutory language that did not differentiate between private and public defendants. Because the Supreme Court answered certified question 1 in the affirmative, it did not reach the federal court's remaining questions. View "Martin v. Dep't of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, petitioner Robert Williams filed a personal restraint petition (PRP) arguing that the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel punishment in violation of the state and federal constitutions. While confined in Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities, Williams asked the Washington Supreme Court to order his sentence be served in home confinement at his sister’s home in Florida until COVID-19 no longer posed a threat to him. The Supreme Court issued an order recognizing that article I, section 14 of the Washington Constitution was more protective than the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution regarding conditions of confinement and that Williams’s then current conditions of confinement were cruel under the state constitution: specifically, the lack of reasonable access to bathroom facilities and running water, as well as DOC’s failure to provide Williams with appropriate assistance in light of his physical disabilities. The Court granted Williams’s PRP and directed DOC to remedy those conditions or to release Williams. DOC later reported that it had complied with this court’s order and had placed Williams in a housing unit designed for assisted living care. Williams was relocated to a single cell with no roommates and a toilet and sink, and was given access to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant restrooms and a readily available medical staff, an assigned wheelchair pusher/therapy aide, and an emergency pendant allowing him to call for assistance. To this, the Supreme Court concluded these actions remedied the unconstitutional conditions and declined to order Williams’s release. By this opinion, the Supreme Court explained its reasoning underlying its grant of Williams' PRP. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Williams" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether the Washington legislature extended a privilege or immunity to religious and other nonprofit, secular employers and whether, in providing the privilege or immunity, the legislature affected a fundamental right without a reasonable basis for doing so. Lawmakers enacted Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) to protect citizens from discrimination in employment, and exempted religious nonprofits from the definition of “employer.” In enacting WLAD, the legislature created a statutory right for employees to be free from discrimination in the workplace while allowing employers to retain their constitutional right, as constrained by state and federal case law, to choose workers who reflect the employers’ beliefs when hiring ministers. Matthew Woods brought an employment discrimination action against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (SUGM). At trial, SUGM successfully moved for summary judgment pursuant to RCW 49.60.040(11)’s religious employer exemption. Woods appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, contesting the constitutionality of the statute. SUGM argued RCW 49.60.040(11)’s exemption applied to its hiring decisions because its employees were expected to minister to their clients. Under Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim must yield in a few limited circumstances, including where the employee in question was a minister. Whether ministerial responsibilities and functions discussed in Our Lady of Guadalupe were present in Woods’ case was not decided below. The Supreme Court determined RCW 49.60.040(11) was constitutional but could be constitutionally invalid as applied to Woods. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to determine whether SUGM met the ministerial exception. View "Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission" on Justia Law

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Executing a search warrant, in 2011, eight Tacoma police officers broke open an apartment door with a battering ram. They expected for find Matthew Longstrom, a drug dealer. Instead, they awakened Petitioner Kathleen Mancini, a nurse who had been sleeping after working the night shift. Police nevertheless handcuffed Mancini and took her, without shoes and wearing only a nightgown, outside while they searched. Mancini sued these police for negligence in the performance of their duties. A jury found the police breached a duty of reasonable care they owed to Mancini when executing the search warrant. The Washington Supreme Court found substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals that held to the contrary (granting the officers sovereign immunity) and reinstated the jury’s verdict. View "Mancini v. City Of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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This case involved cross appeals regarding a petition to recall Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan based on events that occurred at protests following the killing of George Floyd. The recall petition alleged Mayor Durkan failed to adequately control the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) response to the protests, allowing the police to use unnecessary force and causing significant harm to nonviolent protesters, local residents, media representatives, and medical aid workers. Of the seven recall charges, six were dismissed by the trial court and one was allowed to move forward. Mayor Durkan appealed the charge that was allowed to move forward, and the recall petitioners appealed the dismissal of two other charges. On October 8, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order affirming the trial court’s dismissal of two recall charges and reversing the finding that one charge was sufficient for recall. View "In re Recall of Durkan" on Justia Law