Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction 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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Gildardo Vargas was working on a construction project when a concrete-carrying hose hit him in the head, and caused a severe traumatic brain injury. Vargas and his family sued the general contractor, the concrete supplier, and the concrete pumper for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the general contractor was directly liable for providing a safe workplace, and whether any breach proximately caused Vargas’ injury. View "Vargas v. Inland Washington, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Freedom Foundation filed a public records request for documents relating to union organizing by several University of Washington (UW) faculty members. The UW asked one of the faculty to search his e-mail accounts for responsive records, and after reviewing those records, gave notice that it intended to release many of them in the absence of an injunction. Respondent Service Employees International Union 925 sued to enjoin release of any union-related records, arguing they were not "public records" under 42.56 RCW, the Washington Public Records Act. The trial court granted the injunction and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Foundation petitioned the Washington Supreme Court for review, arguing that the "scope of employment test" employed by the trial court and affirmed on appeal, only applied to records stored on an employee's personal device, and should not have been extended to records on public agencies' e-mail servers. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Local 925 v. Univ. of Wash." on Justia Law

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The City of Olympia, Washington contracted with NOVA Contracting, Inc. to replace a deteriorating culvert. The contract contained a "notice of protest" provision, which was taken from the Washington Department of Transportation's "standard Specifications for Road, Bridge, and Municipal Construction (2012) manual. NOVA sued the City for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; the City moved to dismiss based in part on NOVA's filature to file a protest first before taking the City to court. The trial court dismissed NOVA's claim, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Washington Supreme Court has addressed this written notice issue twice before; the Court of Appeals interpreted those holdings, however, as only applying to claims for cost of work performed and not claims for expectancy and consequential damages. The Supreme Court held the two prior cases applied even to claims of expectancy and consequential damages. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "NOVA Contracting, Inc. v. City of Olympia" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the applicability of a broad, absolute insurance pollution exclusion clause to a claim based on negligent installation of a hot water heater that led to the release of toxic levels of carbon monoxide in a residential home. Zhaoyun "Julia" Xia purchased a new home constructed by Issaquah Highlands 48 LLC. Issaquah Highlands carried a policy of commercial general liability insurance through ProBuilders. Soon after moving into her home, Xia began to feel ill. A service technician from Puget Sound Energy investigated Xia's home and discovered that an exhaust vent attached to the hot water heater had not been installed correctly and was discharging carbon monoxide directly into the confines of the basement room. The claims administrator for ProBuilders, NationsBuilders Insurance Services Inc. (NBIS), mailed a letter to Xia indicating that coverage was not available under the Issaquah Highlands policy. As a basis for its declination of coverage, NBIS rested on two exclusions under the policy: a pollution exclusion and a townhouse exclusion. NBIS refused to either defend or indemnify Issaquah Highlands for Xia's loss. When a nonpolluting event that was a covered occurrence causes toxic pollution to be released, resulting in damages, the Washington Supreme Court believed the only principled way for determining whether the damages are covered or not was to undertake an efficient proximate cause analysis. Under the facts presented here, the Court found ProBuilders Specialty Insurance Co. correctly identified the existence of an excluded polluting occurrence under the unambiguous language of its policy. However, it ignored the existence of a covered occurrence negligent installation-that was the efficient proximate cause of the claimed loss. Accordingly, coverage for this loss existed under the policy, and ProBuilders's refusal to defend its insured was in bad faith. View "Xia v. Probuilders Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The issue centered on how the term "collapse" was interpreted under Washington law in an insurance policy that insured "accidental direct physical loss involving collapse," subject to the policy's terms, conditions, exclusions and other provisions, but did not define "collapse" except to state that "collapse [did] not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion." The Washington Court concluded that in the insurance contract, "collapse" means "substantial impairment of structural integrity." "Substantial impairment of structural integrity" means substantial impairment of the structural integrity of a building or part of a building that renders such building or part of a building unfit for its function or unsafe and, under the clear language of the insurance policy here, must be more than mere settling, cracking, shrinkage, bulging, or expansion. View "Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on a challenge to the State Liquor Control Board's spirits distribution licensing fee structure brought by Association of Washington Spirits and Wine Distributors (Association). Specifically, the Association challenged the Board's decision to exempt distillers who distribute their own manufactured spirits and others acting as distributors pursuant to certificates of approval from contributing to a shortfall of $104.7 million in licensing fees imposed on persons holding spirits distributor licenses. The Association asked the Supreme Court to hold that the distillers must contribute proportionately to eliminating the shortfall. The Court rejected the Association's arguments, holding that the Board acted within its authority and did not act arbitrarily or capriciously. Additionally, the Board did not violate the privileges and immunities clause of article I, section 12 of the Washington State Constitution. View "Ass'n of Wash. Spirits & Wine Distribs. v. Liquor Control Bd." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether Washington State courts have jurisdiction over a civil case arising out of a contract in which the tribal corporation waived its sovereign immunity and consented to jurisdiction in Washington State courts. The Washington Supreme Court held that it did not infringe on the sovereignty of the tribe to honor its own corporation's decision to enter into a contract providing for jurisdiction in Washington State courts. View "Outsource Servs. Mgmt. v. Nooksack Bus. Corp." on Justia Law

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Steve and Karen Donatelli hired D.R. Strong Consulting Engineers Inc. to help the Donatellis develop their real property. Before development could be completed, the Donatellis suffered substantial financial losses and lost the property in foreclosure. The Donatellis sued D.R. Strong for breach of contract, violation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. D.R. Strong moved for partial summary judgment on the CPA and negligence claims. D.R. Strong argued that the negligence claims should have been dismissed under the economic loss rule because the relationship between the parties was governed by contract and the damages claimed by the Donatellis were purely economic. The trial court and Court of Appeals held that as a matter of law, the Donatellis' negligence claims were not barred. Finding no error in that analysis, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Donatelli v. D.R. Strong Consulting Eng'rs, Inc." on Justia Law

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This action stemmed from a contract for construction of a baseball stadium and home field for the Seattle Mariners baseball team. In its first trip to the Supreme Court, "Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District v. Huber, Hunt & Nichols-Kiewit Construction Company," (202 P.3d 924 (2009) (PFD I)), the Court held that the statute of limitations did not bar the owner’s suit against the general contractor because the action was brought for the benefit of the State, and therefore the exemption from the statute of limitations set out in RCW 4.16.160 applied. This case raised questions about whether the construction statute of repose barred suit against the general contractor and, if not, whether the general contractor may pursue third party claims against two of its subcontractors. The trial court granted summary judgment of dismissal in favor of the general contractor and the subcontractors on statute of repose grounds. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court: "the statute of repose does not bar suit against the general contractor. In accord with several provisions in the subcontracts, the subcontractors are subject to liability to the same extent that the general contractor may be liable for any defective materials or work under the subcontracts. Thus, the trial court erred in holding that the statute of repose bars Hunt Kiewit’s third party claims against the subcontractors." View "Wash. State Major League Baseball Stadium v. Huber, Hunt & Nichols-Kiewit Constr. Co." on Justia Law