Articles Posted in Contracts

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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

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court: "Does a title company owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments?" This certified question arose out of a civil action for money damages. Plaintiffs Centurion Properties Ill LLC (CP Ill) and SMI Group XIV LLC (collectively Plaintiffs) asserted that defendant Chicago Title Insurance Company negligently breached its duty of care and caused damages when it recorded unauthorized liens on CP Ill's property. The Washington Supreme Court answered the Ninth Circuit's question "no," holding that title companies did not owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments. "Such a duty is contrary to Washington's policy and precedent, and other duty of care considerations." View "Centurion Props. III, LLC v. Chi. Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Kut Suen and May Far Lui (the Luis) owned a building that sustained water damage after a pipe burst while the building was vacant. The Luis' insurance policy for the building limited coverage for water damage based on vacancy: coverage was suspended if the building remained vacant for 60 consecutive days and, effective at the beginning of any vacancy, and there was no coverage for certain specified losses, including water damage. The Luis argued that the policy was ambiguous and should have been interpreted in the Luis' favor to mean that the exclusion of coverage for water damage would commence only after a 60-day vacancy. The Washington Supreme Court rejected the Luis' arguments and found that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage for water damage immediately upon vacancy. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's contrary holding and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Lui v. Essex Insur. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2012, plaintiff Heidi Kroeber was shot outside the Bad Monkey Bar in Kent, Washington by Matthew Atkinson, who was driving an uninsured truck belonging to a friend at the time he opened fire. Plaintiff and her boyfriend had antagonized Atkinson earlier that evening. After pleading guilty to the crime of "Drive-By Shooting," Atkinson claimed that he had not intended to injure anyone and later claimed that he did not know that he was shooting where people were standing. There were factual disputes concerning whether Atkinson's truck was stopped or in motion at the time that he opened fire, and whether he accelerated rapidly away from the scene after the shooting. Plaintiff filed a claim with defendant, GEICO Insurance Company, to recover damages under the UIM coverage provision of her own automobile insurance policy. Under the relevant parts of this policy, GEICO was liable for "damages an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle due to: 1. bodily injury sustained by that insured and caused by an accident; and 2. the liability of the owner or operator for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the underinsured motor vehicle." GEICO denied plaintiffs claim, asserting that her injuries did not arise out of the use of Atkinson's truck. Plaintiff sued GEICO, claiming that she was entitled to UIM coverage. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, and that court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court: (1) whether an injury to an insured pedestrian "arose out of" the intentional firing of a gun from an uninsured pickup truck; and (2) whether it is material if the shooter intended to harm anyone when firing the gun. The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question by holding that an injury "arises out of' vehicle use so long as some causal connection is present between a condition of, an attachment to, or some aspect of a vehicle and the resulting injury. "The converse is also true-ยท-an injury does not 'arise out of' vehicle use under circumstances where no such causal connection exists, making the vehicle the mere situs of the accident." The Court answered the second question in the negative. View "Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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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

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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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In 2009, Kristine Failla, a Washington resident and experienced salesperson, was looking for a job she could perform from her Gig Harbor home. She e-mailed Kenneth Schutz looking for such a position. Schutz was the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of FixtureOne Corporation, which sells fixtures, casework, and displays for use in retail stores. Both FixtureOne and Schutz are based in Pennsylvania, and at the time of Failla's email, FixtureOne had no physical presence or customers in Washington. FixtureOne hired Failla as an account executive. In December 2010, Failla requested a promotion and a raise. Schutz agreed and promoted her to FixtureOne's vice president of sales, increased her yearly salary. Although there were outstanding commissions owed, Failla accepted the promotion and salary increase based on the assurances that the commissions would be paid. Schutz provided a draft employment agreement for Failla to sign in connection with the promotion. Among other things, the agreement contained a provision that it would be interpreted in accordance with Pennsylvania law. Failla proposed revisions to the agreement, but for reasons unknown neither Failla nor Schutz ever signed it. Failla continued working for FixtureOne from her Washington home until May 2011. She received regular paychecks, and the only issue in this case was the sales commissions owed to her that were not paid. In May 2011, Schutz emailed Failla to tell her that FixtureOne was "clos[ing] its doors" and ended her employment the following day. He assured Failla that FixtureOne would "pay your commissions and expenses asap in the next several weeks." For two months following her termination, Schutz returned Failla's requests for payment with various explanations as to why the commissions remained unpaid. Schutz eventually advised Failla that she would not receive a commission check and for the first time disputed whether such commissions were even owed. Failla filed suit against FixtureOne and Schutz for the wilfull withholding of wages, including an allegation that Schutz was individually liable under Washington's wage laws. Failla served Schutz in Pennsylvania but was unable to serve FixtureOne. Consequently the suit proceeded against Schutz alone. Failla and Schutz cross moved for summary judgment. Schutz argued that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction because he did not have the requisite minimum contacts with the state, and even if Washington could exercise jurisdiction over him, there were genuine issues of material fact preventing the entry of summary judgment. The trial court concluded it had personal jurisdiction and denied Schutz's summary judgment motion. The court granted summary judgment to Failla, awarding double damages. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Washington's long-arm statute did not reach Schutz because the employment relationship between Failla and FixtureOne was inadequate to confer jurisdiction over Schutz. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, and reversed. View "Failla v. FixtureOne Corp." 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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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

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In this case and its companion, LK Operating, LLC v. Collection Grp., LLC,(No. 88132-4), the central issues on appeal arose from a joint venture agreement regarding a debt collection business. The debt collection business operated according to the terms of the joint venture agreement, as originally proposed, from approximately winter 2005 through summer 2007. In this opinion, the issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of equitable indemnification (known as the "ABC Rule") to hold that the legal malpractice plaintiffs here suffered no compensable damages as a matter of law and that summary judgment dismissal was appropriate. "Where the only damages claimed by a legal malpractice plaintiff are attorney fees incurred in a separate litigation and the only legal basis on which plaintiff asserts those fees are compensable is the ABC Rule, then the defendant is entitled to summary judgment dismissal if the ABC Rule does not apply to the undisputed facts as a matter of law." That was the situation presented in this case, and as such, affirmed the trial court. View "LK Operating, LLC v. Collection Grp., LLC" on Justia Law