Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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The issue before the Supreme Court concerned a dispute between Petitioners Donia Townsend and several other home purchasers and Defendant Quadrant Corporation and its parent companies over an arbitration clause in the home purchasers' individual purchase contracts. Several years after the home purchases, Townsend and the other purchasers jointly filed suit in superior court against Quadrant alleging outrage, fraud, unfair business practices, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, rescission and breach of warranty. In support of these allegations, they claimed that Quadrant knowingly engaged in shoddy workmanship in building the homes, and that this resulted in serious construction defects that caused personal injuries relating to mold, pests, and poisonous gases. They claimed that the arbitration clause in their purchase agreements was unenforceable. The superior court denied Quadrant's motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals reversed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's holding that the homeowners’ procedural unconscionability claim that pertained to the entire purchase contract, including the arbitration clause, was to be decided by an arbitrator. View "Townsend v. Quadrant Corp." on Justia Law

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The trial court in this case ruled that under the Washington courts' application of "Frye v. United States," there must be general acceptance in the relevant scientific community that a particular type of in utero toxic exposure can cause a particular type of birth defect before expert testimony on causation is admissible. Plaintiff Julie Anderson worked for Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc., from 1998 until she filed a safety complaint with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) and was fired. While it was not officially part of her job, Plaintiff regularly mixed paint. Employees were required by official company policy to wear respirators when mixing paint, but there was reason to believe that the policy was not rigorously enforced and may have been actively undermined by management. Plaintiff gave birth to a son in January 2000. By 2003, it was clear the child suffered from "medical abnormalities." He was diagnosed with a neuronal migration defect, congenital hemiplegia, microcephalus, and a multicystic dysplastic kidney, among other things, along with "delays in motor, communication, cognitive, and adaptive behavior." Upon review of the trial record, the Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court's interpretation and subsequent ruling on the issue. The Court held that the Frye test is not implicated if the theory and the methodology relied upon and used by the expert to reach an opinion on causation is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community. The Court affirmed the trial court's rulings on comparative fault and wrongful discharge. The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Anderson v. Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Washington residents who were consumers of allegedly illegal debt adjustment programs filed a class action lawsuit against Defendants Global Client Solutions, LLC (GCS) and Rocky Mountain Bank and Trust (RMBT). Defendants managed and held âspecial purpose accountsâ as part of their adjustment programs. Payments to consumersâ creditors were authorized from these accounts. When enough money accumulated in a consumerâs account, Defendants would attempt to use the funds to negotiate settlement with creditors on terms favorable to the consumer. Defendants charged consumers various fees for its services. GCSâ earnings came from the fees they charged directly to the special purpose account holders. RMBT did not receive fees, but benefited by holding Plaintiffsâ money without paying interest. In 2009, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued a cease and desist order that required a reformation of RMBTâs banking practices. GCS subsequently stopped opening new accounts at RMBT. Later that year, Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against GCS and RMBT on behalf of all consumers who has special purpose accounts. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified three questions to the state Supreme Court regarding interpretation of state law in the Plaintiffsâ case. In response, the Supreme Court concluded that GCS is a âdebt adjusterâ and as such, is not exempt from liability under state law. Furthermore, the Court concluded that debt settlement companies that worked with GCS and RMBT are likely subject to the stateâs debt adjusting statute fee limits, depending on whether they are debt adjusters providing debt adjustment services.