Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Hill & Stout, PLLC v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co.
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
Fowler v. Guerin
The federal district court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. The federal court asked the Supreme Court to clarify the standards for equitable tolling in civil cases under Washington law. The underlying federal case involved a long-running dispute between a certified class of more than 25,000 Washington teachers (Teachers) and the Department of Retirement Systems (DRS). The federal district court determined that while the Teachers established a Fifth Amendment takings claim, the applicable statute of limitations on that claim lapsed several years before the Teachers filed this suit. The Teachers asked the federal district court to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling to allow the suit to proceed despite the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court answered the certified question by reiterating the four conditions it previously identified as necessary to justify equitable tolling of a statute of limitations in the civil context. Washington law allows equitable tolling of a statute of limitations in a civil suit when: (1) the plaintiff has exercised diligence; (2) the defendant’s bad faith, false assurances, or deception has interfered with the plaintiff’s diligent efforts; (3) tolling is consistent with (a) the purpose of the underlying statute and (b) the purpose of the statute of limitations; and (4) justice requires tolling the statute of limitations. View "Fowler v. Guerin" on Justia Law
Williams v. City of Spokane
Chris Williams was fined in Spokane Municipal Court for speeding in a school zone, an infraction captured by a traffic safety camera. Williams did not contest the infraction when it was issued, but before the Washington Supreme Court, he argued the camera was improperly positioned to photograph vehicles outside of the school zone. As a result, Williams contended that his infraction and the resulting municipal court judgment were invalid. Instead of moving to vacate the judgment in municipal court, Williams filed a putative class action complaint in superior court against the City of Spokane (City) and American Traffic Solutions Inc. (ATS), seeking a refund of his fine and declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Williams’s complaint had to be dismissed. The Supreme Court found that in accordance with court rules, statutes, and case law, Williams had to seek a refund of his infraction fine from the municipal court that issued the judgment. Until he did, Williams did not have standing to seek declaratory or injunctive relief. Therefore, all of his claims were precluded. The Court affirmed the appellate court and remanded this case to the superior court for dismissal of Williams’s complaint. View "Williams v. City of Spokane" on Justia Law
Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, Inc.
This case concerned the constitutionality of RCW 49.46.130(2)(g), the provision exempting agricultural workers from the overtime pay requirement set out in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, ch. 49.46 RCW. Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar worked for DeRuyter Brothers Dairy as milkers. DeRuyter milkers used mechanized equipment to milk close to 3,000 cows per shift, 24 hours a day, three shifts a day, 7 days a week. In 2016, Martinez-Cuevas and Aguilar filed the present class action suit along with about 300 fellow DeRuyter dairy workers, claiming that DeRuyter failed to pay minimum wage to dairy workers, did not provide adequate rest and meal breaks, failed to compensate pre- and post-shift duties, and failed to pay overtime. The complaint also sought a judgment declaring RCW 49.46.130(2)(g) unconstitutional. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the class, finding the exemption violated article I, section 12 of the Washington Constitution and the equal protection clause. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concurred with the trial court and affirmed that judgment. View "Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, Inc." on Justia Law
Burnett v. Pagliacci Pizza, Inc.
Pagliacci Pizza hired Steven Burnett as a delivery driver. Steven Burnett attended a mandatory new employee orientation at a local Pagliacci Pizza. During the orientation, Pagliacci gave Burnett multiple forms and told him to sign them so that he could start working. One of the forms that Burnett signed was a one-page “Employee Relationship Agreement” (ERA). The ERA mentioned nothing about arbitration of disputes. Pagliacci’s “Mandatory Arbitration Policy” (MAP) was printed in Pagliacci’s employee handbook, “Little Book of Answers,” a 23-page booklet in which Pagliacci’s MAP appeared on page 18. The MAP was not listed in the handbook’s table of contents, and page 18 fell within the “Mutual Fairness Benefits” section. Burnett was given a copy of Little Book of Answers during his orientation and told to read it at home. Consistent with that instruction, the ERA contained a section entitled “Rules and Policies.” Delivery drivers like Burnett filed a class action alleging wage and hour claims against Pagliacci Pizza. At issue on interlocutory review was whether the trial court sustainably denied the employer’s motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals affirmed, determining that the mandatory arbitration policy contained in the employee handbook, which was provided to the named plaintiff after he signed the employment relationship agreement, was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and, thus, unenforceable. The Washington Supreme Court held that the MAP at issue in this case was indeed unenforceable because no arbitration agreement was formed when the employee signed the employment agreement when he had no notice of the arbitration provision contained in the employee handbook. The Court also held that in light of the noted circumstances, even if an arbitration contract existed, it was procedurally unconscionable and unenforceable. Furthermore, the Court held the same arbitration provision was substantively unconscionable because its one-sided terms and limitation provisions would bar any claim by the terminated employee here, an overly harsh result. Accordingly, the trial court’s order denying the employer’s motion to compel arbitration was affirmed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Pagliacci Pizza, Inc." on Justia Law
Rocha v. King County
This case involved claims against King County, Washington regarding jury selection and compensation. In 2016, petitioners filed a class action complaint in Pierce County, Washington Superior Court. They contended: (1) they had standing to file suit under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act; (2) jurors were employees entitled to minimum wage under Washington's Minimum Wage Act; and (3) RCW 2.36.080(3) created an implied cause of action for increased juror reimbursement based on economic status. Petitioners alleged that low rates of expense reimbursement have a greater impact on low-income jurors and asserted that this causes many jurors to seek excusal on the basis of financial hardship or to simply not respond to summons. Petitioners Nicole Bednarczyk and Catherine Selin sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the superior court’s summary judgment dismissal of their declaratory relief, minimum wage, and disparate impact claims regarding jury service in King County. The Washington Supreme Court found standing was satisfied, but that jurors were not employees entitled to minimum wage, and there was no implied cause of action for requiring increased pay for jurors under RCW 2.36.080(3). "While we do not reach the inherent authority arguments, we take this opportunity to comment that low juror reimbursement is a serious issue that has contributed to poor juror summons response rates. The concerns raised by amici and petitioners as to the impact of low juror reimbursement on juror diversity, low-income jurors, and the administration of justice as a whole are valid points. While we should continue to cooperate with the other branches of government in an effort to address the long-standing problems identified by petitioners and amici, these concerns are best resolved in the legislative arena." View "Rocha v. King County" on Justia Law
Peoples v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n
Krista Peoples and Joel Stedman filed Washington Consumer Protection Act ("CPA") suits against their insurance carriers for violating Washington claims-handling regulations and wrongfully denying them personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. The federal district court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law relating to whether Peoples and Stedman alleged an injury to "business or property" to invoke their respective policies' PIP benefits. Peoples alleged her insurance carrier refused, without any individualized assessment, to pay medical provider bills whenever a computerized review process determined the bill exceeded a predetermined limit, and that the insurance company's failure to investigate or make individualized determinations violated WAC 284-30-330(4) and WAC 284-30-395(1). Due to this practice of algorithmic review, the insurance carrier failed to pay all reasonable medical expenses arising from a covered event, in violation or RCW 48.22.005(7). Stedman alleged his carrier terminate PIP benefits whenever an insured reached "Maximum Medical Improvement," which he alleged violated WAC 284-30-395(1). The Washington Supreme Court held an insurance carrier's wrongful withholding of PIP benefits injures the insured in their "business or property." An insured in these circumstances may recover actual damages, if proved, including out-of-pocket medical expenses that should have been covered, and could seek injunctive relief, such as compelling payment of the benefits to medical providers. Other business or property injuries, apart from wrongful denial of benefits, that are caused by an insurer's mishandling of PIP claims are also cognizable under the CPA. View "Peoples v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n" on Justia Law
Sampson v. Knight Transp., Inc.
The federal district court in Washington State certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. Plaintiffs Valerie Sampson and David Raymond (collectively, Sampson) were Washington residents who worked as commercial truck drivers for defendants Knight Transportation Inc., Knight Refrigerated, LLC, and Knight Port Services LLC (collectively, Knight). Plaintiffs brought this putative class action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated for several alleged violations of Washington wage and hour laws. At issue here was Sampson's claim that piece-rate drivers must receive separate hourly compensation for all time spent "on-duty not- driving." The question the federal court posed to the Supreme Court was whether the Washington Minimum Wage Act required non-agricultural employers to pay their piece-rate employees per hour for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate work. The Supreme Court responded: no. "All workers must be compensated for all hours worked in a work week in accordance with the Minimum Wage Act (MWA). For nonagricultural workers, WAC 296-126-021 validly allows employers to demonstrate compliance with the MWA's guaranty that Washington workers receive a minimum wage for each hour worked by ensuring that the total wages for the week do not fall below the statutory minimum wage for each hour worked. Accordingly, the plaintiffs in this case fail to demonstrate as a matter of law that they were uncompensated for time spent "loading and unloading, pre-trip inspections, fueling, detention at a shipper or consignee, washing trucks, and other similar activities." View "Sampson v. Knight Transp., Inc." on Justia Law
Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case began in 2016 when the two named plaintiffs filed this putative class action lawsuit against Dovex on behalf of Dovex's seasonal and migrant agricultural employees. Each summer, Dovex employs hundreds of seasonal and migrant workers, many of whom speak limited English, to harvest apples, pears, and cherries in Dovex's orchards. The plaintiffs alleged Dovex violated state and federal law by willfully refusing to pay wages and failing to "pay minimum wage, provide paid rest breaks, maintain accurate and adequate time and wage records, pay wages when due, [and] provide accurate statements of hours worked." The federal court asked: (1) whether Washington law requires agricultural employers to pay their pieceworkers for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work); if yes, then how must agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work)? The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question “yes:” agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis. The Court answered the second question posed consistent with the parties’ position: the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work must be calculated at the applicable minimum wage or the agreed rate, whichever was greater. View "Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co." on Justia Law
Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hosp. at Pasco
Judith Chavez and other registered nurses (nurses) sought class certification in their wage action against their employer, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital at Pasco d/b/a Lourdes Medical Center and John Serle (Lourdes). The trial court denied class certification, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly found that the nurses failed to satisfy the predominance and superiority requirements necessary for class certification. The Court held the trial court abused its discretion by finding that individual issues predominate and by failing to compare alternative methods of adjudication. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that predominance was met because the dominant and overriding issue in this litigation was whether Lourdes failed to ensure the nurses could take rest breaks and second meal periods and could record missed breaks. Superiority was met because a class action was superior to other methods of adjudication for the resolution of these claims. View "Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hosp. at Pasco" on Justia Law