Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Delaura Norg called 911 seeking emergency medical assistance for her husband, Fred. She gave the 911 dispatcher her correct address, which the dispatcher relayed to emergency responders from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). The Norgs’ apartment building was three blocks away from the nearest SFD station, but it took emergency responders over 15 minutes to arrive. This delay occurred because the SFD units failed to verify the Norgs’ address and, instead, went to a nearby nursing home based on the mistaken assumption that the Norgs lived there. The Norgs sued the City for negligence, alleging that SFD’s delayed response aggravated their injuries. The City pleaded the public duty doctrine as an affirmative defense and both parties moved for summary judgment on the question of duty. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in the Norgs’ favor and struck the City’s affirmative defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory review. The Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court properly granted partial summary judgment to the Norgs on the question of duty. In doing so, the Court expressed no opinion on the remaining elements of the Norgs’ claim (breach, causation, and damages). The Supreme Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Norg v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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The collective bargaining contract between the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME Council 2 (Union) and the City of Spokane expired on December 31, 2020. Prior to its expiration, the Union wrote to the City’s labor relations manager that it desired to engage in traditional labor negotiations for renewal of the contract and included proposed ground rules for negotiations. The rules included a condition that the negotiating meetings be closed to the public. In response, the City informed the Union it intended to conduct the bargaining negotiations open to the public, consistent with the 2019 revision of section 40 of the city charter. Through counsel, the Union drafted an opinion letter pointing out that the City’s open bargaining rule was a violation of state law to which the City responded that it had not implemented open bargaining and were willing to negotiate in good faith. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether the municipal ordinance, requiring all collective bargaining between the city and union representatives be conducted in a manner open to the public, was preempted by state law and unconstitutional under the Washington State Constitution. The trial court ruled that section 40 of the city charter was preempted by state law; to this, the Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "Wash. State Council of County & City Emps. v. City of Spokane" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Washington Department of Ecology (Department) revised its Water Quality Program Permit Writer’s Manual to add a new section addressing methods permit writers could use to identify and measure polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) discharged into Washington waters. This specific revision was challenged on the grounds it constituted rule making outside the Washington Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Washington Supreme Court determined the manual revision was not a rule for the purposes of the APA because it merely guided permit writers, who had discretion to choose test methods on a case-by-case basis, and did not require the uniform application of a standard to an entire class of entities who discharged PCBs. View "Nw. Pulp & Paper Ass'n. v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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Rather than using the insurance agency’s in-house presiding officer, American Property Casualty Insurance Association (Association) requested an adjudicative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) pursuant to RCW 48.04.010(5). The request was denied. The Association sought a writ of mandamus against Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, requiring him to transfer the hearing. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the Association could have sought judicial review by way of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), ch. 34.05 RCW, thus, the Association failed to demonstrate it had “no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy” at law, one of the three requirements for a writ to issue. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition. View "Am. Prop. Cas. Ins. Ass'n v. Kreidler" on Justia Law

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This case concerned whether Washington Substitute Senate Bill (SSB) 5493, constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. SSB 5493 amended RCW 39.12.015 to modify how the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) industrial statistician calculated prevailing wage rates for public works projects. Associated General Contractors of Washington, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington Inc., Inland Pacific Chapter of Associate Builders and Contractors Inc., and Inland Northwest AGC Inc. (collectively AGC), filed suit against the State of Washington and various government officials in their official capacities (collectively State), for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that requiring the industrial statistician to use the wages from CBAs constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The superior court granted the State’s cross motion for summary judgment, holding that SSB 5493 was constitutional, and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that SSB 5493 was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority, holding that the amendments have neither the standards nor adequate procedural safeguards as required by the two-part test set forth in Barry & Barry, Inc. v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 81 Wn.2d 155, 163-64, 500 P.2d 540 (1972). The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals: SSB 5493 was not an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority because it provided standards and procedural safeguards under the test in Barry & Barry. "The legislature made a policy decision to adopt the highest CBA wage rate and has directed the L&I industrial statistician to identify the highest CBA wage rate and adopt it as the prevailing wage. In addition there are procedural safeguards in related statutes and inherent in the collective bargaining process that protect against arbitrary administrative action or abuse of discretionary power." The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the remaining issue not addressed because of its disposition in this case. View "Associated Gen. Contractors of Wash. v. State" on Justia 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