Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government Contracts
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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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More than 70 years ago, two railroad companies helped the United States Atomic Energy Commission build a track to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in return for the right to use the track without paying rent. After the nuclear reactors at Hanford were decommissioned, the United States transferred nearly 800 acres, including the track at issue, to the Port of Benton (Port), subject to existing agreements and potential reversion to the United States if certain conditions were not met. The Port continued to honor the agreements and operate the railroad. The Port’s decision not to charge rent was challenged by a taxpayer, Randolph Peterson, as an unconstitutional gift of public funds. This challenge was dismissed at summary judgment. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court found no constitutional violation and affirmed dismissal. View "Peterson v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In Washington State, cities, towns, and counties are empowered to enact criminal codes, employ law enforcement officers, and operate jails. Currently, cities, towns, and counties were "responsible for the prosecution, adjudication, sentencing, and incarceration of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses committed by adults in their respective jurisdictions, and referred from their respective law enforcement agencies." They can carry out these responsibilities directly, through their own courts, law enforcement agencies, and jails, or through agreements with other jurisdictions. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether, in the absence of a prior interlocal agreement, a county was entitled to seek reimbursement from cities for the cost of medical services provided to jail inmates who were (1) arrested by city officers and (2) held in the county jail on felony charges. The Court concluded it was not. View "Thurston County v. City of Olympia" on Justia Law

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The City of Olympia, Washington contracted with NOVA Contracting, Inc. to replace a deteriorating culvert. The contract contained a "notice of protest" provision, which was taken from the Washington Department of Transportation's "standard Specifications for Road, Bridge, and Municipal Construction (2012) manual. NOVA sued the City for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; the City moved to dismiss based in part on NOVA's filature to file a protest first before taking the City to court. The trial court dismissed NOVA's claim, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Washington Supreme Court has addressed this written notice issue twice before; the Court of Appeals interpreted those holdings, however, as only applying to claims for cost of work performed and not claims for expectancy and consequential damages. The Supreme Court held the two prior cases applied even to claims of expectancy and consequential damages. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "NOVA Contracting, Inc. v. City of Olympia" on Justia Law

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Specialty Asphalt & Construction, LLC and its majority owner, Lisa Jacobsen (Specialty), brought suit against Lincoln County, Washington (County) for gender discrimination, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of contract arising out of the County's bidding and contracting process for a paving project. Specialty lost all three claims it brought at the trial court. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and Specialty petitioned for review by the Washington Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The Court affirmed with respect to the appellate court's holding that an injunction was the exclusive remedy for Specialty's contract claim. The Court reversed with respect to the gender discrimination and negligent misrepresentation claims: Some elements of Specialty's evidence, standing alone, might not create a reasonable inference of discrimination, but when viewed together, the inference of discrimination "becomes quite strong;" Specialty also provided evidence of its recoverable reliance damages to defeat summary judgment on its negligent misrepresentation claim. View "Specialty Asphalt & Constr., LLC v. Lincoln County" on Justia Law

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Robbin Taylor filed a statement of charges seeking recall of Black Diamond City council member Patricia Pepper. In November 2015, Pepper defeated opponent Ron Taylor (husband of Robbin Taylor) in an election for Black Diamond City Council in King County. Beginning in January 2016, a chasm developed with Mayor Carol Benson and council members Tamie Deady and Janie Edelman on one side, and a majority of the city council - Pepper, Erika Morgan, and Brian Weber - on the other. After Pepper, Morgan, and Weber passed R-1069, they voted to fire city attorney Carol Morris. Upon passing R-1069, Pepper and a majority of the council made decisions to alter contracts regarding the Master Development Review Team (MDRT) contracts for two large development projects planned in Black Diamond that had been approved by Mayor Benson and former council members. Mayor Benson hired emergency interim city attorney Yvonne Ward. Ward submitted two memoranda to the council, concluding that R-1069 violated the Black Diamond Municipal Code (BDMC) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), chapter 42.30 RCW. The council had also received advice from prior city attorney Morris and from the city's risk management pool that the resolution could create liability for the city if council members violated the OPMA. Ultimately, the council's decision to enact R-1069 and revisit the MDRT contracts, among other actions, led to a lawsuit: MDRT contractor CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC (Oakpointe) filed suit against the city and council members Pepper, Morgan, and Weber, alleging violations of the OPMA, which has led to litigation and costs for the city. Pepper was a member of council standing committees; allegations were made that Pepper, Morgan, and Weber held secret council and standing committee meetings conducting city business in violation of the OPMA. After approximately a year and a half of tensions, Taylor filed a statement of charges with the King County Elections Division, requesting Pepper's recall. The superior court ruled that four of those charges were factually and legally sufficient to support a recall petition. Pepper appealed. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision with regard to the first three charges, but reversed with regard to the fourth charge. View "In re Recall of Pepper" on Justia Law

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This case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review an award of attorney fees against five surety companies following a jury trial for breach of contract in a public works project. The parties litigated the issue of whether three construction firms had defaulted on a contract, thus triggering coverage under a performance bond issued by the surety companies. At issue was whether the existence of a statutory fee provision barred equitable remedies available at common law for coverage disputes and whether the trial court correctly determined that segregation between covered and uncovered fees was impossible. The Court of Appeals affirmed the award of Olympic Steamship fees and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the fees could not be segregated. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "King County v. Vinci Constr. Grands Projets" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a claim for damages relating to a drilling contract Petitioner Elcon Construction and Respondent Eastern Washington University. Elcon alleged tort and contract claims. The contract claims were resolved by arbitration. In dismissing the tort claims, the trial court applied the independent duty rule formerly known as the "economic loss rule," which the Court of Appeals similarly applied in affirming. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court and Court of Appeals misapplied the independent duty doctrine to bar Elcon's tort claims in this case. The Court found Elcon's claims failed factually. Viewing the facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Elcon, no genuine issues of material fact existed with respect to Elcon's fraud in the inducement or tortious interference claims. The Court affirmed on different grounds reached by the trial and appeals courts. View "Elcon Constr., Inc. v. E. Wash. Univ." on Justia Law

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In this appeal the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the parties' indemnity agreement clearly and unequivocally indemnified the Snohomish County Public Transportation Benefit Area Corporation (doing business as Community Transit) for losses resulting from its own negligence. Upon review, the Court concluded that the language of the agreement, and in particular language providing that indemnity would not be triggered if losses resulted from the sole negligence of Community Transit, clearly and unequivocally evidenced the parties' intent that the indemnitor, FirstGroup America, Inc. (doing business as First Transit) indemnify Community Transit for losses that resulted from Community Transit's own negligence. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision to the contrary and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Snohomish County Pub. Transp. Benefit Area Corp. v. FirstGroup Am., Inc." on Justia Law

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The city of Tacoma has franchise agreements with Pierce County and the cities of Fircrest, University Place, and Federal Way (Municipalities) to provide them with water services. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether those franchise agreements required Tacoma to both maintain fire hydrants and bear the maintenance costs of those hydrants. Tacoma raised questions about the impact of the agreements' indemnification clauses had on this dispute. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the franchise agreements contractually required Tacoma to provide hydrants to the Municipalities, and that the indemnification provisions did not preclude this case. View "City of Tacoma v. City of Bonney Lake" on Justia Law