Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the amount of reimbursement that counties were entitled to from the State for costs associated with purchasing, installing, and operating additional ballot boxes. In order to answer that question, the Court first had to consider the relationship between RCW 29A.40.170 (the ballot box statute), RCW 29A.04.430 (the reimbursement statute, or "Section 430"), and RCW 43.135.060 (the unfunded mandate statute). The Supreme Court held Section 430 controlled over the unfunded mandate statute and provided reimbursement only of the State’s proportional share for the costs of compliance with the ballot box statute. Further, the Court held that the 2020 amendment of Section 430 did not violate article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution and that respondents Snohomish, Kittitas, and Whitman Counties could not claim any vested right that would require the Court to invalidate the retroactive effect of Section 430. The Court therefore reversed the order granting partial summary judgment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Wash. State Ass'n of Counties v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) challenged the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) approval of a permit that allowed Cooke Aquaculture Pacific LLC to change fish species to commercially farm steelhead trout in Puget Sound. The WFC alleged: (1) WDFW’s conclusion that an environmental impact statement (EIS) was not required was clearly erroneous; and (2) WDFW violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by failing to consider and disclose appropriate alternatives to the proposal under RCW 43.21C.030(2)(e). The WFC asked the Washington Supreme Court to reverse the permit approval and order WDFW to complete an EIS. The superior court found WDFW’s SEPA analysis was not clearly erroneous and the steelhead permit application did not trigger RCW 43.21C.030(2)(e). Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wild Fish Conservancy v. Dep't of Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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There have been multiple cases that purported to (at least partially) adjudicate and reserve water rights of various parties throughout the Yakima River Drainage Basin (the Basin). The underlying litigation began in 1977 when the Washington State Department of Ecology filed a general water rights adjudication for all waters contained within the Basin. The Yakima County Superior Court divided the Basin into multiple distinct subbasins and issued conditional final orders (CFOs) for each subbasin at various points within the litigation. The superior court issued its final decree in May 2019, incorporating all of the prior CFOs as necessary. Multiple parties appealed the final decree, and, after briefing, the Court of Appeals certified the case to the Washington Supreme Court. The appeal could be categorized as three separate appeals, each seeking to modify the trial court's final decree (or the incorporations of the CFOs within). Although each distinct appeal was unrelated as to the disputed issues, some parties had an interest in more than one appeal. Further, all three appeals were tied together by variations on one common procedural gatekeeping issue: the appealability of CFOs and how that related to an appeal of the final decree. Overall, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court in part and affirmed in part. View "Dep't of Ecology v. Acquavella" on Justia Law

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In this case, the issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether Governor Inslee exceeded his constitutional authority to veto whole bills, “entire section[s]” of bills, and “appropriation items” when he vetoed a single sentence that appeared seven times in various portions of section 220 of ESHB 1160, the 2019 transportation appropriations bill. Section 220 appropriated moneys to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for public transportation-related grants. The vetoed sentence (the “fuel type condition”) barred WSDOT from considering vehicle fuel type as a factor in the grant selection process. The Supreme Court concluded the Governor did exceed his authority; the bill was a valid legislative limit on an executive agency’s expenditure of appropriated funds. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s ordered on summary judgment in favor of the legislature. View "Washington State Legislature v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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Tradesmen International and Laborworks Industrial Staffing Specialists were staffing agencies that placed temporary workers with host employers. Tradesmen staffed a worker at a Dochnahl Construction site. Laborworks staffed workers at a Strategic Materials recycling facility. The Department of Labor and Industries (Department) cited the staffing agencies for Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) violations arising from the staffing operations. In both cases, the citations were vacated by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (Board), finding that the staffing agencies were not liable employers under WISHA. The Department appealed the decisions to the superior court. As to Laborworks, the superior court reinstated the citations, and as to Tradesmen, the superior court affirmed the Board and vacated the citations. In both cases, the Court of Appeals determined that the staffing agencies were not liable employers under WISHA and vacated the citations. After its review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals as to Tradesmen and reversed as to Laborworks. View "Dep't of Labor & Indus. v. Tradesmen Int'l, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Governor Jay Inslee, the State of Washington, the Washington Department of Corrections, and Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Department of Corrections, sought the Washington Supreme Court's accelerated direct discretionary review of an order of the Franklin County Superior Court denying petitioners’ motion to change venue to Thurston County Superior Court in an action brought by respondent Jeffrey Johnson challenging proclamations the governor issued requiring certain state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, 2021. The merits of the underlying suit were not before the Court. In an order issued on October 11, 2021, the Court determined that mandatory venue for this action was in Thurston County Superior Court under RCW 4.12.020(2), and therefore granted petitioners’ motion for accelerated discretionary review, reversed the order of the Franklin County Superior Court, and remanded to that court with directions to grant petitioners’ motion to change venue without delay. In this opinion, the Court explained the reasoning underlying its order. View "Johnson v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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This case involves the constitutionality of a business and occupation (B&O) tax. In 2019, the Washington state legislature imposed an additional 1.2 percent B&O tax on financial institutions with a consolidated net income of at least $1 billion. The tax applied to any financial institution meeting this threshold regardless of whether it was physically located in Washington, and it was apportioned to income from Washington business activity. The Washington Supreme Court found that because the tax applied equally to in- and out-of-state institutions and was limited to Washington-related income, it did not discriminate against interstate commerce. The Court therefore reversed the trial court and upheld the constitutionality of the tax. View "Washington Bankers Ass'n v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law