Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Gabriel Anderson, a student of the Ferndale School District (Ferndale), was killed by a vehicle while on an off campus walk with his physical education (PE) class. Anderson’s estate alleged negligence by Ferndale. The trial court dismissed the claim, granting Ferndale summary judgment based on a lack of duty. The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that there were sufficient factual issues on duty and proximate causation. Ferndale challenged the Court of Appeals’ analysis of proximate cause. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether Ferndale was entitled to summary judgment dismissal based on proximate causation. While the Court of Appeals erred in analyzing legal causation, the Supreme Court found it properly concluded that material issues of fact existed concerning proximate causation. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse summary judgment dismissal of the negligence claim against Ferndale. View "Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court in connection with the meaning of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW. The federal trial court asked: (1) whether a school district was subject to strict liability for discrimination by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and (2) if yes, then did "discrimination," for the purposes of this cause of action, encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault? Gary Shafer was hired by the Olympia School District in 2005 as a school bus driver. It was undisputed that Shafer, during his employment, abused passengers on school buses, including P.H. and S.A., the minor plaintiffs in this case. Plaintiffs sued the school district in federal court, naming multiple defendants, and claiming both state and federal causes of action. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which was granted in part and denied in part. In response to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative, 434 P.3d 39 (2019), plaintiffs successfully moved to amend their complaint to include a claim under the WLAD. The amended complaint alleges that the minor plaintiffs’ treatment constituted sex discrimination in a place of public accommodation. The Supreme Court answered "yes" to both certified questions: a school district may be subject to strict liability for discrimination in places of public accommodation by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and under the WLAD, discrimination can encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault. View "W.H. v. Olympia School Dist." on Justia Law

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In 1998, petitioner Christal Fields pled guilty to attempted second degree robbery for trying to snatch a woman's purse. As a result, Fields was permanently disqualified from working at any licensed childcare facility in Washington pursuant to Department of Early Learning (DEL) regulations. At issue in this case was the extent to which a criminal record could preclude a person from supporting herself through lawful employment in her chosen field. The Washington Supreme Court held DEL's regulations prohibiting any individualized consideration of Fields' qualifications at the administrative level violated her federal right to due process as applied. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for further administrative proceedings. View "Fields v. Dep't of Early Learning" on Justia Law

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Heidi Hendrickson filed suit against the Moses Lake School District to recover for injuries she suffered while operating a table saw in a woodshop class at Moses Lake High School. The jury found the District was negligent, but that its negligence was not a proximate cause of Hendrickson's injuries. Hendrickson appealed, arguing the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the District owed a her a duty of ordinary care instead of a heightened duty. The Court of Appeals agreed with Hendrickson and reversed, remanding for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, however, finding school districts were subject to an ordinary duty of care. As a result, the Supreme Court reinstated the jury's verdict. View "Hendrickson v. Moses Lake Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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In 2012, Washington voters approved I-1240, codified at chapter 28A.710 RCW, which created a public charter school system.In League of Women Voters v. Washington, 184 Wn.2d 393 (2015), the Washington Supreme Court held that I-1240 violated article IX, section 2 of the Washington Constitution, finding I-1240 incorrectly designated charter schools as common schools and then impermissibly supported them with money allocated for common schools. Because the unconstitutional provisions of I-1240 were not severable, the Court did not reach the other challenges raised by the plaintiffs. In 2016, the Washington legislature enacted the Charter School Act with amendments designed to cure its constitutional defects. Plaintiffs brought suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the new Act was facially unconstitutional. A number of charter schools joined the suit as intervenor-respondents. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that the Act did not on its face violate the Washington Constitution. Plaintiffs then sought direct review from the Washington Supreme Court. "While each side of the discussion may have legitimate points of view, it is not the province of this court to express favor or disfavor of the legislature's policy decision to create charter schools. . . . We conclude that its only unconstitutional provision is severable, and thus we affirm the trial court in part and hold that the remainder of the Charter School Act is constitutional on its face." View "El Centro de la Raza v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue presented by this case was whether Washington's Zackery Lystedt Law (Lystedt law), RCW 28A.600.190, gave rise to an implied cause of action. The Lystedt law's purpose was to reduce the risk of further injury or death to youth athletes who suffered concussions in the state of Washington. Andrew Swank (Drew) died from complications after contact with another player during a high school football game. Drew reported having neck pain and headaches. Drew would play again, but the quality of his play "sharply declined." During the game, Coach Jim Puryear called Drew over to the sidelines, where he grabbed Drew's face mask and, according to Drew's father, "began to jerk it up and down hard while he screamed at [Drew], 'What are you doing out there, what are you doing out there?"' Drew returned to the game, where he was hit by an opposing player. He suffered head injuries and staggered to the sideline, where he collapsed. Drew died two days later. Drew's parents sued Drew's school, the football coach, and Drew's doctor on behalf of his estate and individually. The trial court granted summary judgment against the Swanks on all claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court held that an implied cause of action does arise from the Lystedt law. As a result, the Swanks' claims that Valley Christian School (VCS) and Coach Puryear violated the Lystedt law could proceed. The Court also held that the evidence against the coach was sufficient to permit a jury to find liability against the coach, despite the limited volunteer immunity protecting him. Consequently, the Court reinstated the Swanks' common law negligence claims against the coach. Finally, the Court held the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Drew's doctor. View "Swank v. Valley Christian School" on Justia Law

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N.L. met Nicholas Clark at school track practice. She was 14, and he was 18. Both were students in the Bethel School District. Neither N.L. nor any responsible adult on the field knew that Clark was a registered sex offender who had previously sexually assaulted a younger girl who had been about N.L. 'sage at the time. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department had informed Clark's school principal of his sex offender status, but the principal took no action in response. Clark persuaded N.L. to leave campus with him and raped her. N.L. sued the district, alleging negligence. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the School District’s duty to N.L. ended when she left campus and whether its alleged negligence, as a matter of law, was not a proximate cause of her injury. The Court answered both questions “no,” affirming the Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing the trial court’s dismissal of this case on summary judgment. View "N.L. v. Bethel Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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This case was a direct review of a King County Superior Court decision that found certain portions of Initiative 1240 (I-1240) (Charter School Act), codified at chapter 28A.710 RCW, unconstitutional but left the remainder of the Act standing. In November 2012, Washington voters approved I-1240 providing for the establishment of up to 40 charter schools within five years. The Act was intended to provide parents with "more options" regarding the schooling of their children. But the new schools came with a trade-off: the loss of local control and1local accountability. Charter schools are exempt from many state rules. With the exception of "the specific state statutes and rules" identified in RCW 28A.710.040(2) and any "state statutes and rules made applicable to the charter school in the school's charter contract," charter schools were "not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and school district boards of directors ... in areas such as scheduling, personnel, funding, and educational programs." Alarmed over the lack of local accountability and fiscal impacts of the Act, appellants sued the State seeking a declaratory judgment that the Act was unconstitutional. Several supporters of charter schools intervened. All three parties moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted summary judgment to the State and intervenors on all issues but one. The trial court held that charter schools were not "common schools" under article IX of Washington's Constitution and, therefore, the common school construction fund could not be appropriated to charter schools. The trial court found, however, that the provisions permitting such appropriations were severable. The trial court concluded that the Act was otherwise constitutional. All parties sought direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the provisions of I-1240 that designated and treated charter schools as common schools violated article IX, section 2 of the state constitution and were void. This included the Act's funding provisions, which attempted to tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act. Because the provisions designating and funding charter schools as common schools were integral to the Act, such void provisions were not severable, and that determination was dispositive of this case. View "League of Women Voters of Wash. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court was the overall adequacy of state funding for K-12 education under the Washington State Constitution. "The legislature must develop a basic education program geared toward delivering the constitutionally required education, and it must fully fund that program through regular and dependable tax sources." The Court found that the State failed to meet its duty under the constitution by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that fell short of the actual costs of the basic education program. The legislature enacted reforms to remedy the deficiencies in the funding system, and the Court deferred to the legislature's chosen means of discharging its duty. However, the Court retained jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State's plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018. The Court directed the parties to provide further briefing to the Court addressing the preferred method for retaining jurisdiction. View "McCleary v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Ten special education students and their parents and guardians (Appellants) sued Clover Park School District for intentional torts, outrage, negligence and unlawful discrimination under state law. Clover Park moved for summary judgment to dismiss, arguing that Appellants had not exhausted the administrative remedies available under the state Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The trial court granted Clover Park’s motion. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court and remanded the case, holding that IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement does not apply to state-law claims nor does Washington State law require exhaustion before filing such claims. View "Dowler v. Clover Park Sch. Dist. No. 400" on Justia Law