Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Petitioners Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the partial summary judgment rulings that an “all risk” insurance policy did not provide coverage for certain losses. At issue in WSDOT’s petition for review was whether the loss of use or functionality of the insured property constituted “physical loss” or “physical damage” that triggered coverage. STP’s petition asked whether the insurance policy excluded coverage for damage to the insured property caused by alleged design defects and whether the policy covers delay losses. This case arose out of a major construction project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. In 2011, STP contracted with WSDOT to construct a tunnel to replace the viaduct. The project started in July 2013. A tunnel boring machine (TBM) used in the project stopped working in December 2013, and did not resume until December 2015. The project was unable to continue during the two-year period while the TBM was disassembled, removed, and repaired. STP and WSDOT tendered insurance claims under the Policy. Great Lakes denied coverage, and STP and WSDOT sued the insurers, alleging wrongful denial of their claims. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding that even if it interpreted “direct physical loss or damage” to include loss of use, no coverage under Section 1 is triggered because the alleged loss of use was not caused by a physical condition impacting the insured property. View "Seattle Tunnel Partners v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC" on Justia Law

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Carl Schwartz filed suit against King County, Washington (County) for the catastrophic injuries he suffered when he collided with a bollard the County installed on the Green River Trail. The County moved for summary judgment dismissal, arguing that Washington’s recreational use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210, precluded liability and that the statute’s exception for known dangerous artificial latent conditions did not apply. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment for the County. The Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed summary judgment. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding Schwartz presented evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the bollard was a known dangerous artificial latent condition, so the trial court erred by granting summary judgment for the County. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Schwartz v. King County" on Justia Law

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In early 2020, to help curtail the spread of COVID-19, Washington Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-24 prohibiting non emergency dental care. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on the lost business income from the Proclamation and the interpretation of an insurance contract under which the insurance company covered lost business income for the “direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property” and excluded coverage for loss or damage caused by a “virus.” Drs. Sarah Hill and Joseph Stout were dentists who operated two dental offices under their business Hill and Stout PLLC (HS). HS bought a property insurance policy from Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Company (MOE) that covered business income lost due to “direct physical loss of or damage to” the properties. HS sued MOE for coverage because of its inability to use its offices for nonemergency dental practice under the Proclamation and later amended to add a putative class action. MOE moved to dismiss, arguing that HS failed to show a “direct physical loss of or damage to” the property and that the virus exclusion applied. The trial court denied the motion. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of MOE. “It is unreasonable to read ‘direct physical loss of . . . property’ in a property insurance policy to include constructive loss of intended use of property. Such a loss is not ‘physical.’ Accordingly, the Proclamation did not trigger coverage under the policy.” View "Hill & Stout, PLLC v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Yesenia Pacheco sought contraception from Neighborcare Health, a federally funded community health center, “to prevent the birth of an unwanted child.” The method Pacheco and her care providers selected was Depo-Provera, “a highly effective” injectable contraceptive medication that “must be administered on a timely basis every eleven to thirteen weeks.” Pacheco received regular Depo-Provera injections from December 2009 until July 2011. On September 30, 2011 for her next scheduled appointment, a medical assistant “mistakenly injected [Pacheco] with a flu vaccine instead.” The medical assistant “failed to confirm why Ms. Pacheco was there, to document consent to the flu vaccine or a change in the orders, or to advise Ms. Pacheco of the side effects of a flu shot and/or the consequences of skipping a Depo-Provera injection.” Neighborcare did not inform Pacheco of its mistake until December 2011, when she sought an appointment for her next Depo-Provera injection. At that time, Neighborcare asked Pacheco to come to the clinic for a pregnancy test, which was positive. Plaintiff S.L.P. was born to Pacheco and plaintiff Luis Lemus, diagnosed with perisylvian polymicrogyria (PMG), a congenital defect resulting in permanent disabilities. In March 2017, Pacheco, Lemus, and S.L.P. filed an amended complaint against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) at the federal district court for the Western District of Washington, seeking damages relating to Pacheco’s pregnancy and S.L.P.’s PMG. The federal district court certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court, asking whether a patient who received negligent reproductive health care could recover all damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence, regardless of the patient’s reason for seeking care. To this, the Supreme Court answered yes: if any Washington health care provider breaches their duty “to follow the accepted standard of care,” then damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence may be recovered upon the necessary factual findings. Where negligent contraceptive care results in the birth of a child, and that child has a congenital defect, the provider may be liable for damages relating to the child’s condition. Such liability does not require proof that the child was at a known, heightened risk for developing congenital defects or that the patient sought contraception for the specific purpose of preventing the birth of a child with congenital defects. View "Pacheco v. United States" on Justia Law

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A child was taken from his mother after she brought him to the hospital. Hospital staff found the child had serious injuries. The father, who lived separately from the mother, asked that the child be placed with him. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family recommended out-of-home placement, citing concern for the child’s safety. A court determined the child should have been placed with his godparents, based on the Department’s recommendation. The father moved for discretionary review of the shelter care order, arguing the court erred because the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal from a parent. The Court of Appeals denied review, and a panel of the court declined to modify its ruling. The father than moved for discretionary review by the Oregon Supreme Court, which was granted. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court became moot, as the father ultimately agreed to an order of dependency in a subsequent hearing. The Supreme Court still opined on what “reasonable efforts” the Department had to make before a child could be removed for a parent or guardian’s care. The Department argued (and the trial court agreed) that given the acute and emergent circumstances of the case, it did not violate the reasonable efforts requirement. The father argued there was no such exception for emergent circumstances. The Supreme Court provided additional guidance as to what constituted reasonable efforts, and here, held the trial court erred in excusing the Department from making reasonable efforts to place the child with the father. View "In re Dependency of L.C.S." on Justia Law

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In February 2016, three-month-old A.K., daughter of respondents Michelle Desmet and Sandro Kasco, was taken into protective custody after she suffered a spiral fracture to her left femur. When the parents could not explain the injury, A.K. was placed with her paternal aunt for six months while the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) initiated an investigation. By August, A.K. was returned to her parents and a dependency action was dismissed. In August 2018, the parents sued the DSHS (the State) for negligent investigation, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and invasion of privacy by false light (false light) based on the Department’s allegedly harmful investigation and issuance of a letter indicating that allegations of child abuse/neglect against Desmet were founded (the founded letter). The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from suit under RCW 4.24.595(2) because its actions in A.K.’s dependency proceedings were taken pursuant to the juvenile court’s order to place A.K. with her aunt. The trial court denied summary judgment and entered a final order finding that no immunity applied. The Department appealed on the immunity issue, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Department claimed on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals’ decision rendered RCW 4.24.595(2) meaningless and that the court erroneously refused to consider the legislative history of RCW 4.24.595(2), which, in the Department’s view, was enacted to bar claims like those brought by the parents. The Supreme Court found the unambiguous text of RCW 4.24.595(2) did not grant the Department immunity for all actions in an investigation of child abuse/neglect that might coincide with a court order in related dependency proceedings. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Desmet v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the Department of Natural Resources' ("DNR") land management strategies applicable to certain federal land grants (“state lands”) and county land grants (“forest board lands”), which involves harvesting timber from these lands to generate revenue for state institutions and counties. The petitioners, a group of individuals and nonprofit organizations (collectively Conservation NW), challenged DNR’s land management strategies on the grounds they violated the mandate under Washington Constitution article XVI, section 1 that “[a]ll the public lands granted to the state are held in trust for all the people.” Conservation NW argued DNR’s strategies prioritized maximizing revenue from timber harvests and undercut its obligation to manage granted lands for the broader public interest, which would have been better served by prioritizing conservation and efforts to mitigate climate change, wildfires, and land erosion. DNR contended it had a trustee obligation to manage the state and forest board lands specifically for the state institutions enumerated in the Enabling Act and the county beneficiaries. DNR acknowledged its land management strategies generated revenue but not “at the expense of forest health.” The trial court dismissed Conservation NW’s lawsuit against DNR pursuant to County of Skamania v. Washington, 685 P.2d 576 (1984), establishing DNR as a trustee under the Enabling Act. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case. View "Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands" on Justia Law

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C Davis sought to recall Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Davis filed five recall charges alleging that Governor Inslee violated the separation of powers, infringed on a number of constitutional rights, and improperly exercised emergency powers when issuing proclamations in response to the COVID -19 pandemic. In order to be placed on the ballot, a recall charge must be legally and factually sufficient to demonstrate an elected official’s malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of the oath of office. The Washington Supreme Court held that the charges put forth by Davis were not legally or factually sufficient. View "In re Recall of Inslee" on Justia Law

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Chris Williams was fined in Spokane Municipal Court for speeding in a school zone, an infraction captured by a traffic safety camera. Williams did not contest the infraction when it was issued, but before the Washington Supreme Court, he argued the camera was improperly positioned to photograph vehicles outside of the school zone. As a result, Williams contended that his infraction and the resulting municipal court judgment were invalid. Instead of moving to vacate the judgment in municipal court, Williams filed a putative class action complaint in superior court against the City of Spokane (City) and American Traffic Solutions Inc. (ATS), seeking a refund of his fine and declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Williams’s complaint had to be dismissed. The Supreme Court found that in accordance with court rules, statutes, and case law, Williams had to seek a refund of his infraction fine from the municipal court that issued the judgment. Until he did, Williams did not have standing to seek declaratory or injunctive relief. Therefore, all of his claims were precluded. The Court affirmed the appellate court and remanded this case to the superior court for dismissal of Williams’s complaint. View "Williams v. City of Spokane" on Justia Law

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K.W. was removed from his long-term placement with his relative, “Grandma B.,” after she took a one-day trip and did not notify the social worker of the trip. The consequence of this removal resulted in tremendous upheaval in K.W.’s life and violated the requirements of RCW 13.34.130. Though K.W. was legally free, the placement preferences set out in the statute still applied, and the court erred in failing to apply them and failing to place K.W. with relatives. View "In re Dependency of K.W." on Justia Law