Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
The issue in this case centered on the interpretation of the "right to travel" provision Article III of the Yakama Nation Treaty of 1855, in the context of importing fuel into Washington State. The Washington State Department of Licensing (Department) challenged Cougar Den Inc.'s importation of fuel without holding an importer's license and without paying state fuel taxes under former chapter 82.36 RCW, repealed by LAWS OF 2013, ch. 225, section 501, and former chapter 82.38 RCW (2007). An administrative law judge ruled in favor of Cougar Den, holding that the right to travel on highways should be interpreted to preempt the tax. The Department's director, Pat Kohler, reversed. On appeal, the Yakima County Superior Court reversed the director's order and ruled in favor of Cougar Den. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cougar Den, Inc. v. Dep't of Licensing" on Justia Law

by
This case stemmed from a dispute over the regulatory schemes of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the energy facilities site locations act (EFSLA), and how those schemes applied to a lease agreement between respondents, the Port of Vancouver USA and its board of commissioners (Port), and Tesoro Corporation and Savage Companies (Tesoro). The lease agreement permitted Tesoro to construct a petroleum based energy facility on the Port's property. The agreement remained contingent on review by, and certification from, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), the primary decision-making authority in the field of energy facilities siting and regulation under EFSLA. EFSLA incorporated by reference numerous regulations from SEPA, including WAC 197-11-714(3) and -070(1)(b) which precluded agencies "with jurisdiction" from taking actions that would "[l]imit the choice of reasonable alternatives" prior to the issuance of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Port entered into the lease agreement with Tesoro prior to EFSEC's issuance of an EIS. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center (collectively, “Riverkeeper”) sued the Port, alleging, among other things, that the lease agreement limited the choice of reasonable alternatives available to the Port, thereby violating SEPA. The trial court summarily dismissed Riverkeeper's SEPA claims in favor of the Port, holding that the contingencies contained within the lease preserved reasonable alternatives available to the Port. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding the Port's lease with Tesoro did not violate SEPA. However, the Court affirmed only the outcome; the Court adopted the trial court’s reasoning and affirmed. View "Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA" on Justia Law

by
Barry Ackerley died in 2011. In 2008 and 2010, Ackerley made substantial gifts of money. On these inter vivos gifts, Ackerley paid the required federal gift taxes, which amounted to over $5.5 million. Upon his death, Ackerley was required under the federal estate tax code to include the value of the gift taxes paid in his federal taxable estate because he died within three years of making the gifts. Ackerley's estate thus included the gift taxes in its federal estate tax return. But when Ackerley's estate filed his Washington estate tax return, it did not include the $5.5 million in federal gift taxes paid as part of the Washington taxable estate. The Department of Revenue issued a notice of assessment, notifying Ackerley's estate that it owed additional Washington estate taxes on the amount of federal gift taxes paid. The Estate and Transfer Tax Act, chapter 83.100 RCW, made clear that calculating a Washington taxable estate begins with the federal taxable estate and that the Washington definition of "transfer" is the same as the federal definition. Under federal estate tax law, the gift tax paid is included in the taxable estate under the "gross-up rule" and, as such, is transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Following the legislature's clear mandate, the Washington Supreme Court must also find that the gift tax paid is part of the Washington taxable estate and transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Thus, the DOR properly included the gift tax paid in its assessment of Ackerley's estate. View "Estate of Ackerley v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
Consolidated cases involved two city of Bellevue (City) firefighters who were diagnosed with malignant melanoma and filed claims for workers' compensation benefits. In both cases, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (Board) denied the firefighters' claims. Both firefighters then appealed the Board's decision to King County Superior Court. Under the Industrial Insurance Act (IIA), Title 51 RCW, a worker injured in the course of employment who suffers from an "occupational disease" is entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The parties disagreed about various aspects of how and whether the presumption in RCW 51.32.185 should operate when a board decision was appealed to superior court. The Supreme Court noted that RCW 51.32.185 reflected a strong social policy in favor of the worker and concluded that: (1) whether the City rebutted the firefighter presumption was a factual determination that was properly given to the jury in Larson, but improperly decided as a matter of law in “Spivey;” (2) RCW 51.32.185 shifted both the burden of production and burden of persuasion to the employer; (3) in “Larson,” jury instruction 9 was proper; and ( 4) Larson was entitled to attorney fees at the Board level. The Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision in “Larson” and reversed in “Spivey.” View "Spivey v. City of Bellevue" on Justia Law