Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
In re Dependency of G.J.A.
At issue in this case was whether the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) met its burden under the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) to provide active efforts to reunify C.A. with her children. After review, the Washington Supreme Court held the Department failed to provide active efforts when it provided untimely referrals and only passively engaged with C.A. from January through June 2019. The Supreme Court also held that the dependency court impermissibly applied the futility doctrine when it speculated that even had the Department acted more diligently, C.A. would not have been responsive. Therefore, the dependency court’s finding that the Department satisfied the active efforts requirement from January through June 2019 was reversed. The matter was remanded and the dependency court directed to order the Department to provide active efforts in accordance with the Court's opinion before the court proceeds to hear the filed termination of parental rights petitions. View "In re Dependency of G.J.A." on Justia Law
Green v. Pierce County
The issue before the Washington Supreme Court’s in this case was whether an individual’s YouTube channel qualified as “news media” for requests for certain records under the Washington Public Records Act (PRA). In 2014, Brian Green and Peter Auvil went to the County-City Building in Tacoma to file a document and pay a parking ticket. As they went through security, the guard asked to search Auvil’s bag. Auvil refused. A Pierce County deputy sheriff came to assist, and Auvil began to record a video of the interaction on his phone. Auvil continued to refuse to allow the security guard to search the bag, arguing that the security checkpoint was a violation of his privacy rights. The conversation escalated, and the deputy asked the men to leave. When Green stood too close to him, the deputy shoved Green and caused him to fall backward onto the floor. The deputy arrested Green for criminal obstruction and took him to jail. He was released approximately 24 hours later. The prosecuting attorney’s office dismissed the charge. In December 2017, Green e-mailed a PRA request to the Pierce County Sheriff’s public records office requesting “[a]ny and all records of official photos and/or birth date and/or rank and/or position and/or badge number and/or date hired and/or ID Badge for all detention center and/or jail personnel and/or deputies on duty November 26 & 27 2014.” A representative of the Sheriff’s “Public Disclosure Unit” sent 11 pages of records, but did not include photographs or dates of birth as requested, explaining that the information was exempt under the PRA. Green said he was “working on a story concerning the Pierce County Jail” and again signed his e-mail with the title, “Investigative Journalist.” Green claimed his 6,000-subscriber YouTube channel met the definition of “news media” under the PRA. The Supreme Court concluded the statutory definition of “news media” required an entity with a legal identity separate from the individual. Green did not prove that he or the Libertys Champion YouTube channel met the statutory definition of “news media,” and, thus, he was not entitled to the exempt records. Therefore, the trial court was reversed in part. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Pierce County’s motion to compel discovery. View "Green v. Pierce County" on Justia Law
Ladenburg v. Henke
This case concerned a conflict between Tacoma Municipal Court Judge David Ladenburg and the presiding judge of that court, Judge Drew Henke. Judge Ladenburg petitioned the Washington Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus or prohibition against Judge Henke, directing her to withdraw an order of consolidation she issued pursuant to General Rule 29 (GR 29). A threshold question for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a municipal judge, such as Judge Henke, was a “state officer” for purposes of article IV, section 4 of the Washington Constitution. The Court held a municipal judge was not a state officer, and therefore dismissed Judge Ladenburg’s petition. View "Ladenburg v. Henke" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of E.M.
In 2018, E.M. was a three-year-old boy who had lived with his grandmother since birth as a dependent child of the State. When his grandmother sought to return to work, E.M. suddenly found himself in a custodial tug-of-war between his biological parents, his grandmother, and the State. The Superior Court placed E.M. in foster care. E.M.’s grandmother quickly retained an attorney for E.M. for the purpose of asking the Superior Court to reconsider its decision. The attorney, however, was unable to meet with E.M. because the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) would not provide contact details or arrange a meeting with E.M. Ultimately, the court declined reconsidering E.M.’s placement in foster care because it ruled that the attorney was not appointed by the court to represent E.M. and because the representation raised numerous ethical issues. E.M.’s mother appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding that "circumstances may arise where an attorney must undertake a representation to protect a person’s interest in limited circumstances before the attorney has had a chance to meet with the person or obtain the court’s approval. Accordingly, before striking a representation, the court must first consider whether the circumstances may authorize such a limited representation. As the superior court failed to make this consideration before striking the notice of appearance, we reverse." View "In re Dependency of E.M." on Justia Law
Hester v. Washington
This case involved a challenge to former RCW 43.43.120(23)(a) (2001), which excluded certain overtime from the calculation of the monthly pension benefit granted under the Washington State Patrol Retirement System (WSPRS). Four Washington State troopers (Troopers) hired before the statute became effective claimed this exclusion of voluntary overtime from the calculation of their monthly pensions was an unconstitutional impairment of their contract with the State in violation of article I, section 10 of the United States Constitution and article I, section 23 of the Washington State Constitution. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled: (1) the statute of limitations was three years and accrued at retirement; (2) there remained issues of material fact regarding whether the change was offset by comparable benefits; and (3) the change was reasonable and necessary to serve a legitimate public purpose. After review of that ruling, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rulings on the statute of limitations and on comparable benefits. However, the Court vacated its legitimate public purpose ruling as premature given that the issue of comparable benefits remained for trial. The matter was remanded for additional proceedings. View "Hester v. Washington" on Justia Law
Woods v. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission
The issue in this case was whether the Washington legislature extended a privilege or immunity to religious and other nonprofit, secular employers and whether, in providing the privilege or immunity, the legislature affected a fundamental right without a reasonable basis for doing so. Lawmakers enacted Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) to protect citizens from discrimination in employment, and exempted religious nonprofits from the definition of “employer.” In enacting WLAD, the legislature created a statutory right for employees to be free from discrimination in the workplace while allowing employers to retain their constitutional right, as constrained by state and federal case law, to choose workers who reflect the employers’ beliefs when hiring ministers. Matthew Woods brought an employment discrimination action against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (SUGM). At trial, SUGM successfully moved for summary judgment pursuant to RCW 49.60.040(11)’s religious employer exemption. Woods appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, contesting the constitutionality of the statute. SUGM argued RCW 49.60.040(11)’s exemption applied to its hiring decisions because its employees were expected to minister to their clients. Under Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim must yield in a few limited circumstances, including where the employee in question was a minister. Whether ministerial responsibilities and functions discussed in Our Lady of Guadalupe were present in Woods’ case was not decided below. The Supreme Court determined RCW 49.60.040(11) was constitutional but could be constitutionally invalid as applied to Woods. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to determine whether SUGM met the ministerial exception. View "Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission" on Justia Law
In Re Recall of Snaza
This case involved a recall petition against Thurston County, Washington, Sheriff John Snaza. Petitioner Arthur West alleged Snaza committed a recallable offense because he stated in a press release that he would not enforce an order issued by the Washington State secretary of health intended to combat the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Snaza appealed the trial court’s conclusion that the recall charge was factually and legally sufficient. The Washington Supreme Court concluded Snaza had discretion and his exercise of discretion (stating he would not criminally enforce the order) was not manifestly unreasonable. Therefore, the recall charge was neither factually nor legally sufficient, and the trial court's decision was reversed. View "In Re Recall of Snaza" on Justia Law
Beauregard v. Wash. State Bar Ass’n
The Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Board of Governors (BOG) terminated the WSBA executive director during a closed executive session. WSBA member Lincoln Beauregard sued the WSBA, alleging that the vote to fire the executive director violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). He demanded that the executive director be reinstated. The trial court held that the OPMA applied to the WSBA and granted Beauregard a preliminary injunction, but not for the requested relief of reinstating the executive director. Instead, the injunction required the WSBA to comply with the OPMA. Because the OPMA did not apply to the WSBA and because the superior court ordered relief that Beauregard never requested, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the preliminary injunction. View "Beauregard v. Wash. State Bar Ass'n" on Justia Law
Leishman v. Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC
Roger Leishman, an openly gay man, began employment with the Washington Attorney General’s office (AGO) as chief legal advisor to Western Washington University in 2015. Shortly after starting work, Leishman began exhibiting serious trichotillomania, anxiety, and other symptoms he disclosed to his employer. He would later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which was also disclosed to his employer. In January 2016, Leishman learned he did not receive a raise given to other assistant attorney generals, due to complaints his supervisor made about his conduct at work. Leishman contended his supervisor’s complaints were based on homophobic beliefs. Leishman made a formal request for reasonable accommodation of his disability, which the AGO denied. Leishman drafted a discrimination complaint. In response, the supervisor denied making the comments, accused Leishman of faking his disability, and refused to support his then-pending accommodation request. The AGO retained Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC (OMW) to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s discrimination complaint and his supervisor’s allegations. The OMW report concluded Leishman did not establish discrimination against him based on sexual orientation, and his conduct during a meeting with his supervisor violated expected standards of conduct for his position. The AGO thereafter terminated Leishman’s employment effective June, 2016. Leishman filed suit against the AGO. The parties reached a settlement agreement in which Leishman agreed to release his claims against the State and its officers. However, he also sued OMW, alleging the firm was not acting as the AGO’s agent, and his claims against the OMW were not barred by the settlement. The trial court granted OMW’s motion for judgment on the pleadings; the Court of Appeal reversed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. View "Leishman v. Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of A.L.K., L.R.C.K.-S., D.B.C.K.-S.
Two of L.K.’s three children were Indian children for the purposes of federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). L.K. claimed the State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) removed her children without making "active efforts" to keep the family together as was required under the two laws. The Court of Appeals did not address this issue but, instead, sua sponte found that under the invited error doctrine, L.K. was precluded from raising this issue on appeal, holding that because L.K. repeatedly contended she did not need services, she could not now claim on appeal that the Department did not provide her sufficient services under ICWA and WICWA. It did not reach the issue of whether the Department provided active efforts. The Washington Supreme Court reversed appellate court's holding regarding "invited error." With respect to "active efforts," the Supreme Court found the Department did not engage in the statutorily required active efforts to prevent the breakup of an Indian family. Accordingly, the dispositional order continuing L.R.C.K.-S. and D.B.C.K.-S.’s foster care placement was vacated. The matter was remanded for immediate return of these two children to their mother, unless the trial court finds returning the children put them in “substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger.” The finding of dependency was unaffected. View "In re Dependency of A.L.K., L.R.C.K.-S., D.B.C.K.-S." on Justia Law