Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

by
Petitioner Alyne Fortgang filed a request for documents concerning the elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo (Zoo). She filed a request under the Public Records Act (PRA), which required every government "agency" to make records "available for [public] inspection and copying." Petitioner filed her request with the Woodland Park Zoo Society (WPZS), the private nonprofit that runs the Zoo. WPZS argued that the PRA did not apply to it as a private entity. The Court of Appeals interpreted the statutory word "agency" to include private entities when they act as the functional equivalent of government agencies. Under the Telford analysis, the appellate court concluded WPZS was not the functional equivalent of a government agency, and did not have to produce the records. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo" on Justia Law

by
Clark County Councilor Thomas Mielke filed recall charges essentially alleging that three fellow council members improperly held a vote in executive session, improperly designated The Columbian as the newspaper of record, and did not prevent the county executive from dissolving a county department. The superior court judge dismissed the charges as legally and factually insufficient, which Mielke appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "In re Recall of Boldt" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Washington's vested rights doctrine excused compliance with the requirements of a municipal storm water permit. The Washington State Department of Ecology issued the third iteration of a municipal storm water permit pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program (established by the Act). Various permittees appealed this portion of the permit to the Pollution Control Hearings Board, claiming that it violated the vested rights doctrine because it compelled them to retroactively apply new storm water regulations to completed development applications. The Pollution Control Hearings Board held that the vested rights doctrine did not apply to storm water regulations permittees must implement as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the vested rights doctrine excused compliance with the storm water regulations because they were "land use control ordinances." Finding that the Court of Appeals erred in its judgment, the Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the Pollution Control Hearings Board's order. View "Snohomish County v. Pollution Control Hr'gs Bd." on Justia Law