Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

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In 2014, Seven Hills LLC began developing a cannabis production and processing business in Chelan County, Washington. After Seven Hills procured the relevant permits and began building on its property, Chelan County (County) passed Resolution 2015-94, which placed a moratorium on siting new cannabis-related businesses. While the moratorium was in place, Seven Hills received the necessary state licenses and began operating its cannabis production and processing business. Shortly thereafter, the County passed Resolution 2016-14, which changed the relevant ordinances resulting in the barring of new cannabis-related businesses. Seven Hills received a notice and order to abate zoning from the County Department of Community Development, containing four allegations: that Seven Hills had (1) produced and processed cannabis in violation of Resolution 2016-14; (2) constructed and operated unpermitted structures; (3) operated unpermitted propane tanks; and (4) created a public nuisance. A hearing examiner found Seven Hills committed all four violations; the trial court and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court held the County’s resolution declaring a moratorium on siting new cannabis production and processing activities did not amend or replace existing zoning ordinances, and that Seven Hills established a nonconforming use prior to adoption of Resolution 2016-14. Further, the Court held that Resolution 2016-14 did amend the County’s ordinances defining agricultural use, but did not retroactively extinguish vested rights. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was reversed in part and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Seven Hills, LLC v. Chelan County" on Justia Law

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Kent Turner suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), which caused loss of his motor skills. When his wife, Kathy Turner, could not, due to her own health issues, provide necessary in-home assistance, Kent moved into a nursing home and then into an apartment, where he died in a fire. Kent’s estate, through Kathy Turner, sued the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging (LMTAAA) (the area agency on aging) with case management responsibilities for Kent’s care, for negligence and for abuse or neglect. DSHS and LMTAAA moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court ruled that no special relationship was formed and only an ordinary duty of care was owed. The trial court further held that no breach occurred and causation was lacking. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the claims against DSHS and LMTAAA. View "Turner v. Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs." on Justia Law

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In 2016, Steven Long was living in his truck. Long, then a 56-year-old member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, worked as a general tradesman and stored work tools as well as personal items in his vehicle. One day, Long was driving to an appointment when the truck began making “grinding” noises. In July 2016, Long parked in a gravel lot owned by the city of Seattle. Long stayed on the property for the next three months. On October 5, 2016, police alerted Long that he was violating the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 11.72.440(B) by parking in one location for more than 72 hours. Long claimed he told the officers that he lived in the truck. Later that day, a parking enforcement officer posted a 72-hour notice on the truck, noting it would be impounded if not moved at least one city block. Long did not move the truck. While Long was at work on October 12, a city-contracted company towed his truck. Without it, Long slept outside on the ground before seeking shelter nearby to escape the rain and wind. Long contested the infraction and eventually agreed to a payment plan to reimburse the city for the costs of the impoundment. He now argued, among other things, that the impoundment violated Washington’s homestead act, ch. 6.13 RCW, and the federal excessive fines clause. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s conclusion that Long’s truck automatically qualified as a homestead, and that no declaration was required. However, because Seattle had not yet attempted to collect on Long’s debt, former RCW 6.13.070 did not apply, and Long’s homestead act claim was premature. Thus, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision that Seattle violated the act.As to Long’s excessive fines claim, the Court held the impoundment and associated costs were fines and that an ability to pay inquiry was necessary. Long showed he lacked the ability to pay the imposed costs. View "City of Seattle v. Long" on Justia Law

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Damarius Butts, Isaiah Obet, Charleena Lyles, and seven other people were shot and killed by law enforcement officers in King County, Washington in 2017. In response to community demands for greater police accountability, King County Executive (Executive) Dow Constantine issued a series of executive orders to reform the procedures for conducting coroner’s inquests. The King County Superior Court struck down those executive orders on various grounds, and nearly all parties appealed some aspect of that ruling. The Washington Supreme Court determined every party’s arguments had some merit and all prevailed to some degree. The Court held that the Executive’s authority to conduct coroner’s inquests included the power to establish the procedures by which those inquests are conducted, as long as those procedures are consistent with applicable state and county law. The Court therefore largely upheld Executive Constantine’s recent reforms. But the Court struck portions of the executive orders that the Families and the Law Enforcement Parties showed conflicted with state law, including those that would prevent inquest juries from fulfilling their duties under the Coroner’s Act. The Families were correct that the law required inquest juries be able to examine the involved officers and to decide whether those officers killed Butts, Obet, and Lyles by criminal means. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s order and remanded to grant in part the Families’ petitions for writs of mandamus. View "Family of Butts v. Constantine" on Justia Law

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The city of Puyallup (City) hired Conway Construction Company to build a road. The contract allowed the City to terminate the contract early either for its convenience or on Conway’s default, but a termination for convenience would result in more costs for the City. The City ended up terminating the contract partway through construction, claiming Conway defaulted. After a lengthy bench trial, the trial court concluded that Conway was not in default when the City terminated the contract and converted the termination into one for convenience. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. Further, the Court held that the City was not entitled to an offset for any defective work discovered after termination because the City did not provide Conway with the contractually required notice and opportunity to cure. View "Conway Constr. Co. v. City of Puyallup" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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