Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc.
In 2004, respondents Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed began a committed, romantic relationship. In 2012, the Washington legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239, which recognized equal civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Respondents intended to marry in September 2013. By the time he and Freed became engaged, Ingersoll had been a customer at Arlene's Flowers for at least nine years, purchasing numerous floral arrangements from Stutzman and spending an estimated several thousand dollars at her shop. Baroronelle Stutzman owned and was the president of Arlene's Flowers. Stutzman knew that Ingersoll is gay and that he had been in a relationship with Freed for several years. The two men considered Arlene's Flowers to be "[their] florist." Stutzman’s sincerely held religious beliefs included a belief that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman. Ingersoll approached Arlene's Flowers about purchasing flowers for his upcoming wedding. Stutzman told Ingersoll that she would be unable to do the flowers for his wedding because of her religious beliefs. Ingersoll did not have a chance to specify what kind of flowers or floral arrangements he was seeking before Stutzman told him that she would not serve him. They also did not discuss whether Stutzman would be asked to bring the arrangements to the wedding location or whether the flowers would be picked up from her shop. Stutzman asserts that she gave Ingersoll the name of other florists who might be willing to serve him, and that the two hugged before Ingersoll left her store. Ingersoll maintains that he walked away from that conversation "feeling very hurt and upset emotionally." The State and the couple sued, each alleging violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Stutzman defended on the grounds that the WLAD and CPA did not apply to her conduct and that, if they did, those statutes violated her state and federal constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise, and free association. The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the State and the couple, rejecting all of Stutzman's claims. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc." on Justia Law
Perez-Crisantos v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co.
In 2007, the legislature passed, and the voters ratified, the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA), RCW 48.30.015. IFCA gave insureds a new cause of action against insurers who unreasonably deny coverage or benefits. IFCA also directed courts to grant attorney fees and authorizes courts to award triple damages if the insurer either acts unreasonably or violates certain insurance regulations. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether IFCA also created a new and independent private cause of action for violation of these regulations in the absence of any unreasonable denial of coverage or benefits. The Court concluded it did not and affirmed. View "Perez-Crisantos v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co." on Justia Law
Washington v. LG Elecs., Inc.
Historically, sovereigns were not subject to statutes of limitations without their explicit consent. Washington State consented to some statutes of limitations but not to others. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review in this case was whether Washington consented to a statute of limitations that would bar this antitrust suit filed by the Washington State attorney general on behalf of the State against more than 20 foreign electronics manufacturing companies. The State alleged that between at least March 1, 1995, through at least November 25, 2007, the defendants violated RCW 19.86.030, which prohibited any "contract, combination ... or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce," by agreeing to raise prices and agreeing on production levels in the market for CRTs (cathode ray tubes) used in televisions and computer monitors before the advent of LCD (liquid crystal display) panels and plasma display technologies. Due to this unlawful conspiracy, the State alleges, Washington consumers and the State of Washington itself paid supracompetitive prices for CRT products. Ten of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the claims were time barred because Washington's Consumer Protection Act (CPA) must be brought within four years. The State responded that RCW 19.86.120's statute of limitations did not apply to its claims under RCW 19.86.080. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the State's action for injunctive relief and restitution was exempt from the statute of limitations in RCW 19.86.120 and from the general statutes of limitations in chapter 4.16 RCW. View "Washington v. LG Elecs., Inc." on Justia Law
Jordan v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC
Plaintiff Laura Jordan defaulted on a mortgage payment, and one day after returning home from work, she could not enter the house: the locks had been changed without warning. Nationstar Mortgage left a notice on the house that she needed to contact them to retrieve her belongings. Jordan removed those belongings the next day, and did not return. The house was secured by a deed of trust that contained provisions that allowed Nationstar to enter her home upon default without providing any notice. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether those provisions conflicted with Washington law. Jordan represented a class action proceeding in federal court, which certified two questions of Washington law: (1) whether the deed of trust provisions conflicted with a Washington law that prohibited a lender from taking possession of property prior to foreclosure; and (2) whether Washington's statutory receivership scheme was the exclusive remedy by which a lender may gain access to the property. The Washington Supreme Court held that the deed of trust provisions in this case conflicted with Washington law because they allowed Nationstar to take possession of the property after default. Furthermore, the Court held that nothing in Washington law established the receivership statutes as an exclusive remedy. View "Jordan v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC" on Justia Law
Thornell v. Seattle Serv. Bureau, Inc.
Plaintiff in this putative class action was a Texas resident. Plaintiff alleged she received deceptive debt collection letters from defendant Seattle Service Bureau Inc. (SSB), a corporation with its principal place of business in Washington, pursuant to the referral of unliquidated subrogation claims to SSB by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, a corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. Plaintiff alleges these letters constitute CPA violations by both SSB and State Farm as its principal. Plaintiff asserted she incurred damages caused by the alleged deceptive acts. This case involved two certified questions from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. First, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA), chapter 19.86 RCW) allowed a cause of action for a plaintiff residing outside Washington to sue a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts. Second, the Court was asked to determine whether the CPA supported a cause of action for an out-of-state plaintiff to sue an out-of-state defendant for the allegedly deceptive acts of its instate agent. The United States District Court noted an absence of Washington case law providing guidance on these issues. The Washington Supreme Court answered both certified questions in the affirmative. View "Thornell v. Seattle Serv. Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law
Trujillo v. Nw. Tr. Servs., Inc.
Rocio Trujillo's home loan was secured by a deed of trust encumbering the home. She defaulted, and Northwest Trustee Services Inc. (NWTS), the successor trustee, sent a notice of default and scheduled a trustee's sale of her property. NWTS had a beneficiary declaration from Wells Fargo Bank. RCW 61.24.030(7)(a) (part of the Deeds of Trust Act) required that a trustee not initiate such a nonjudicial foreclosure without "proof that the beneficiary [of the deed of trust] is the owner of any promissory note ... secured by the deed of trust," and must include "[a] declaration by the beneficiary made under the penalty of perjury stating that the beneficiary is the actual holder of the promissory note or other obligation secured by the deed of trust shall be sufficient proof as required under this subsection." NTWS' declaration did not contain that specific statutory language. Instead, it stated under penalty of perjury, "Wells Fargo Bank, NA is the actual holder of the promissory note . . . or has requisite authority under RCW 62A.3-301 to enforce said [note]" (This declaration language differed from the language of RCW 61.24.030(7)(a), by adding the "or" alternative). Following the Washington Supreme Court's decision in "Lyons v. U.S. Bank National Ass 'n," (336 P.3d 1142 (2014)), the Court held in this case that a trustee could not rely on a beneficiary declaration containing such ambiguous alternative language. The Court found that Trujillo alleged facts sufficient to show that NWTS breached the DTA and also to show that that breach could support the elements of a Consumer Protection Act (CPA) claim. However, her allegations did not support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or criminal profiteering. The Court therefore reversed in part and remanded for trial. View "Trujillo v. Nw. Tr. Servs., Inc." on Justia Law
McCarthy Fin., Inc. v. Premera
The plaintiffs' complaint alleged that two groups of defendants, (1) Premera, Premera Blue Cross, and Life Wise Health Plan of Washington (collectively Premera) and (2) the Washington Alliance for Healthcare Insurance Trust and its trustee, F. Bentley Lovejoy (collectively WAHIT), colluded and made false and misleading representations to the plaintiffs that induced the plaintiffs to purchase health insurance policies under false pretenses. Plaintiff-policyholders claimed that Premera and WAHIT violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The plaintiffs requested only two specific forms of damages: (1) for the "unfair business practices and excessive overcharges for premiums," the plaintiffs requested "the sum of the excess premiums paid to the defendants;" and (2) "[i]f the surplus is excessive and unreasonable," the plaintiffs asserted that "the amount of the excess surplus should be refunded to the subscribers who have paid the high premiums causing the excess." On Premera and WAHIT's motion, the trial court dismissed the Policyholders' suit in its entirety based on the filed rate, primary jurisdiction, and exhaustion of remedies doctrines. Specifically, the trial court dismissed all claims of class B (small group) and class C (individuals) pursuant to CR 12(b )( 6) and dismissed all claims of class A (large group) on summary judgment under CR 56. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in relation to certain of the Policyholders' CPA claims. Because awarding the specific damages requested by the plaintiffs would require a court to inappropriately substitute its judgment for that of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC), the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims. View "McCarthy Fin., Inc. v. Premera" on Justia Law
Frias v. Asset Foreclosure Servs., Inc.
The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The issue centered on whether Washington law recognized a cause of action for monetary damages where a plaintiff alleges violations of the deeds of trust act (DTA), chapter 61.24 RCW, but no foreclosure sale has been completed. The Supreme Court was also asked to articulate the principles that would apply to such a claim under the DTA and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), chapter 19.86 RCW. The Court held that the DTA does not create an independent cause of action for monetary damages based on alleged violations of its provisions where no foreclosure sale has been completed. The answer to the first certified question was no-at least not pursuant to the DT A itself. Furthermore, the Court found that under appropriate factual circumstances, DTA violations may be actionable under the CPA, even where no foreclosure sale has been completed. The answer to the second certified question was that the same principles that govern CPA claims generally apply to CPA claims based on alleged DTA violations. View "Frias v. Asset Foreclosure Servs., Inc." on Justia Law
Gray v. Suttell & Assocs.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This lawsuit involved two consolidated suits. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, alleging claims under Washington's Consumer Protection Act (WCPA), chapter 19.86 RCW, and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. sections 1692-1692p. These claims were based in part on plaintiffs' assertion that Midland Funding's business arrangements and debt collection processes violated the WCAA. The questions the federal court raised were: (1) Does the definition of "collection agency" in RCW 19.16.1 00(2) include a person who purchases claims that are owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another, undertakes no activity on said delinquent consumer account but rather contracts with an affiliated collection agency to collect the purchased claims, and is the named plaintiff in a subsequent collection lawsuit for said purchased claims?; and (2) Can a company file lawsuits in Washington on delinquent consumer accounts without being licensed as a collection agency as defined by RCW 19.16.1 00(2)? The Supreme Court responded that that debt buyers fall within the definition of "collection agency" under the Washington Collection Agency Act (WCAA), chapter 19.16 RCW, when they solicit claims for collection. Accordingly, if the court finds that a company (party in this suit) solicited claims, then the company was a collection agency and it could not file collection lawsuits without a license. View "Gray v. Suttell & Assocs." on Justia Law
Jametsky v. Olsen
Desperate to save his home from foreclosure, Lawrence Jametsky sought help securing a loan. Through a series of connections, he was introduced to mortgage broker Matthew Flynn. Flynn made Jametsky an offer for a $100,000 loan that would cover Jametsky's debts, save his house, and allow him to regain financial solvency. Instead of receiving a loan, Jametsky deeded his house to Rodney Olsen for $100,000 and entered into an 18-month lease with a buy-back option. After J ametsky realized what had happened months after the fact, he sought relief under the distressed property conveyances act (DPCA), among other things. His suit was dismissed at summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that Jametsky's property was not distressed at the time of the sale because no certificate of delinquency had been issued by King County. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded: a property can be distressed under RCW 61.34.020(2)(a) before a certificate of delinquency is issued and instruct the trial court to consider a variety of factors in making this factual determination. View "Jametsky v. Olsen" on Justia Law