Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In February 2015, the city of Spokane (City) enacted an ordinance that granted a local property tax exemption to senior citizens and disabled veterans. Relying on a letter by the Washington Department of Revenue (DOR), the Spokane County assessor and treasurer (collectively County) refused to implement the ordinance, believing it to violate the Washington Constitution, Article VII, Sections 1, 9 and 10. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court in this case was whether the City's ordinance indeed violated the Washington Constitution's uniform property tax requirement. The trial court ruled that the ordinance was constitutional and issued a writ requiring the County to apply it. DOR filed a motion to intervene, and both DOR and the County appealed the trial court's ruling. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and held that the City's ordinance was unconstitutional. Agreeing with the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Spokane v. Horton" on Justia Law

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Yakima County Clerk Janelle Riddle appealed a trial court's ruling that five out of the six recall charges filed against her were factually and legally sufficient. Riddle was elected on in late 2014, defeating incumbent Kim Eaton. Riddle attributed many of the challenges she faced to Yakima County's early adoption of new case management software called “Odyssey.” Yakima County had received approval to be "an early adopter site" for Odyssey about a year before Riddle's election. Odyssey was implemented in November 2015. And although most of the early adopter sites for Odyssey encountered some difficulties in its implementation, the Yakima County Clerk's Office had the most difficulty making the transition. Another source of difficulty for Riddle has been her ongoing disagreement with other Yakima County officials, particularly the superior court judges, about the scope of Riddle's powers and duties as clerk. This disagreement prompted the Yakima County Superior Court to pass five new local administrative rules regarding the powers and duties of the clerk on an emergency basis. In May 2017, about two and a half years into Riddle's four-year term, the recall petitioners filed a statement of charges against Riddle, largely alleging Riddle failed to transmit court orders as required by statute, refused to perform in-court duties and threatened to shut down the Yakima County Superior Court, and failed to properly collect and account for clerk's office revenue. The Washington Supreme Court granted the recall petitioners' motion for accelerated review and found the five remaining recall charges legally sufficient. View "In re Recall of Riddle" on Justia Law

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Robbin Taylor filed a statement of charges seeking recall of Black Diamond City council member Patricia Pepper. In November 2015, Pepper defeated opponent Ron Taylor (husband of Robbin Taylor) in an election for Black Diamond City Council in King County. Beginning in January 2016, a chasm developed with Mayor Carol Benson and council members Tamie Deady and Janie Edelman on one side, and a majority of the city council - Pepper, Erika Morgan, and Brian Weber - on the other. After Pepper, Morgan, and Weber passed R-1069, they voted to fire city attorney Carol Morris. Upon passing R-1069, Pepper and a majority of the council made decisions to alter contracts regarding the Master Development Review Team (MDRT) contracts for two large development projects planned in Black Diamond that had been approved by Mayor Benson and former council members. Mayor Benson hired emergency interim city attorney Yvonne Ward. Ward submitted two memoranda to the council, concluding that R-1069 violated the Black Diamond Municipal Code (BDMC) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), chapter 42.30 RCW. The council had also received advice from prior city attorney Morris and from the city's risk management pool that the resolution could create liability for the city if council members violated the OPMA. Ultimately, the council's decision to enact R-1069 and revisit the MDRT contracts, among other actions, led to a lawsuit: MDRT contractor CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC (Oakpointe) filed suit against the city and council members Pepper, Morgan, and Weber, alleging violations of the OPMA, which has led to litigation and costs for the city. Pepper was a member of council standing committees; allegations were made that Pepper, Morgan, and Weber held secret council and standing committee meetings conducting city business in violation of the OPMA. After approximately a year and a half of tensions, Taylor filed a statement of charges with the King County Elections Division, requesting Pepper's recall. The superior court ruled that four of those charges were factually and legally sufficient to support a recall petition. Pepper appealed. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision with regard to the first three charges, but reversed with regard to the fourth charge. View "In re Recall of Pepper" on Justia Law

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Basilio Carrera lost his right hand in a workplace accident. The issue this accident presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) could pursue a third party claim for Carrera's injuries against Sunheaven Farms LLC, the contractor responsible for workplace safety at Carrera's job. The Washington Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' holding that L&I could pursue such a claim: statutes of limitations do not run against the sovereign when, as here, the State brought an action in the public interest. Benefit to a private party in addition to that state interest does not strip a state action of its sovereign character. Here, L&I's claim stands to benefit the State by reimbursing the medical aid fund (Fund) and furthering public policy goals; it is therefore exempt from the statute of limitations under RCW 4.16.160. The Court of Appeals also correctly interpreted chapter 51.24 RCW as authorizing L&I to recover damages beyond what it may retain. View "Carrera v. Olmstead" on Justia Law

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This case centered on Seattle Ordinance 124833 (Ordinance), which imposed a "Firearms and Ammunition Tax" on each firearm and round of ammunition sold within the city limits. Its stated purpose was to raise revenue for public health research relating to gun violence and to fund related social programs. Two individual gun purchasers, Phillip Watson and Ray Carter (collectively, “Watson”) filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Ordinance, arguing the Ordinance was actually a regulation, not a tax, and was preempted by RCW 9.41.290 in any case. Watson also argued that even if the Ordinance was a tax, it exceeded Seattle's delegated taxing authority. The Superior Court ruled in favor of Seattle, holding that the Ordinance imposed an authorized tax and that it was not preempted. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed: a charge intended to raise revenue for the public benefit is a tax. “While courts should be dubious of regulations masquerading as taxes (and vice versa), in this case Watson offers no convincing evidence that the Ordinance has a regulatory purpose or intent. It is a tax.” RCW 9.41.290 preempted only municipal gun “regulation,” not taxation. View "Watson v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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The University of Washington (UW) owned property in City of Seattle but contended the City’s “Landmark Preservation Ordinance” (LPO) could not apply to any of the University’s property. UW wanted to demolish a building on its Seattle campus that was nominatd for potential landmark designation pursuant to the LPO. The City disagreed that the ordinance did not apply. UW filed a declaratory judgment action asking for a judicial determination that the LPO did not apply to any of UW’s property as a matter of law. The Washington Supreme Court determined all of UW' s arguments either failed as a matter of law or could not be decided in the first instance by a state court of general jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the City. View "Univ. of Wash. v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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The federal district court has asked the Washington Supreme Court to answer two certified questions concerning how a Washington labor regulation addressing meal breaks should be applied. A wage dispute was pending at the federal court. Plaintiff Michael Brady filed an amended class action complaint seeking unpaid wages for meal breaks that defendant Autozone Inc. allegedly withheld from employees. Autozone removed the case to the federal district court. Brady later moved in that court to certify a class. After reviewing Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 296-126-092; Administrative Policy ES.C.6; and various decisions from Washington state courts, Western District of Washington, and California, the district court concluded that employers have met their obligation under the law if they ensure that employees have the opportunity for a meaningful meal break, free from coercion or any other impediment. The district court expressly rejected the notion that Washington has adopted a strict liability approach to the taking of meal breaks. In doing so, the district court found that class certification would be inappropriate considering the unique fact scenarios associated with each potential violation of the meal break statute. Accordingly, the district court denied Brady's motion for class certification. Brady sought review of this denial in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that court would not permit Brady to appeal the decision. Brady then filed a motion in the district court, seeking to certify two questions to the Washington Supreme Court: (1) Is an employer strictly liable under WAC 296-126-092?; (2) If an employer is not strictly liable under WAC 296-126-092, does the employee carry the burden to prove that his employer did not permit the employee an opportunity to take a meaningful break as required by WAC 296-126-092? The Washington Court answered the first certified question no: The employer is not automatically liable if a meal break is missed because the employee may waive the meal break. The Court answered the second certified question: an employee asserting a meal break violation under WAC 296-126-092 can establish his or her prima facie case by providing evidence that he or she did not receive a timely meal break. The burden then shifts to the employer to rebut this by showing that in fact no violation occurred or that a valid waiver exists. View "Brady v. Autozone Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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An exception to the open meeting mandate of the Washington's Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) permits governing bodies to enter executive session "[t]o consider the minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale or lease when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of decreased price." The parties disputed the scope of this exception as applied to five executive sessions conducted by the Port of Vancouver USA (the Port). The scope of this "minimum price" exception was a matter of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court. It held that a government entity may enter executive session to discuss the minimum acceptable value to sell or lease property, but not to discuss all factors comprising that value. To the extent that various factors directly alter the lowest acceptable value, the governing body may discuss how these factors impact the minimum price; but general discussion of the contextual factors themselves must still occur at an open public meeting. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's partial summary judgment in favor of the Port and remanded for further proceedings. View "Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA" on Justia Law

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This case presented a question of whether the then-current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the State of Washington and Services Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW (SEIU) included a union security provision statutorily authorized under chapter 41.56 RCW. The trial court held that the CBA contained an authorized union security provision and dismissed the lawsuit. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thorpe v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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The principal issue in this case was whether taxpayers could bring federal or state tort claims to challenge tax assessments, or instead must rely on the normal state tax appeals process. The taxpayers here are trucking companies that were assessed unemployment taxes after the Washington State Employment Security Department audited and reclassified their employment relationship with owner-operators who owned and leased out their own trucking equipment. The trucking companies, joined by their trade organization, Washington Trucking Associations, brought this suit asserting a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and a state common law claim for tortious interference with business expectancies. The superior court dismissed the suit, holding that the trucking companies must challenge the tax assessments through the state tax appeals process. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that the comity principle precluded the section 1983 claim only "to the extent that [Washington Trucking Associations] and the [trucking companies] seek damages based on the amounts of the assessments, but not to the extent that they seek damages independent of the assessment amounts." The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the superior court's dismissal of both the federal and state claims. View "Wash. Trucking Ass'ns v. Emp't Sec. Dep't" on Justia Law