Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government Law
Town of Woodway v. Snohomish County
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether the "vested rights doctrine" applied to permit applications filed under plans and regulations that were later found to be noncompliant with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). In 2006, BSRE Point Wells LP asked Snohomish County to amend its comprehensive plan and zoning regulations to allow for a mixed use/urban center designation and redevelopment of the Point Wells site. BSRE wanted to redevelop the property by adding over 3,000 housing units and over 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. The petitioners, Town of Woodway and Save Richmond Beach Inc., opposed the project. They argued that the area lacked the infrastructure needed to support an urban center, namely sufficient roads and public transit. These nearby communities did not want to "bear the burden of providing urban services to the site." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the vested rights doctrine did apply to the permit applications filed in this case: local land use plans and development regulations enacted under the Growth Management Act (GMA), chapter 36.70A RCW, are presumed valid upon adoption. Should a valid plan or regulation later be found to violate SEPA, the exclusive remedies provided by the GMA affect only future applications for development-not development rights that have already vested. In this case, BSRE Point Wells LP (BSRE) submitted complete applications for development permits before the local land use ordinances were found to be noncompliant with SEPA. BSRE's rights vested when it submitted its applications. A later finding of noncompliance did not affect BSRE's already vested rights. View "Town of Woodway v. Snohomish County" on Justia Law
Rekhter v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs.
In this class action case, a jury found that the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) violated the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing in its contracts with individual providers who live with the DSHS clients for whom they provide care. The jury found that the providers incurred over $57 million in damages, and the judge awarded an additional $38 million in interest. The DSHS clients who lived with their providers also filed a class action suit, but the judge did not allow them to recover any damages. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court upheld the jury's verdict for the providers, the judge's decision to disallow the clients from recovering damages, and the dismissal of the providers' wage claims, because all complied with Washington law. However, the Court reversed the judge's award of prejudgment interest because the damages could not be determined with certainty. View "Rekhter v. Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs." on Justia Law
W.G. Clark Constr. Co. v. Pac. Nw. Reg’l Council of Carpenters
At issue in this case was whether ERISA preempted claims made under two Washington state laws designed to ensure that workers on public projects are paid for their work: chapters 39.08 and 60.28 RCW. When the Washington Supreme Court previously addressed this issue in 1994 and 2000, it held that ERISA preempted such claims. As a result of this conflict between Washington's rule and the rule followed by federal courts, the outcome of this type of case in Washington was entirely dependent on whether the lawsuit was filed in federal or state court. This has led to forum shopping, and created inconsistent and unjust results for parties in Washington. In light of the national shift in ERISA preemption jurisprudence and the persuasive reasoning underlying that shift, the Washington Court, through this opinion, joined courts across the country and held that this type of state law was not preempted by ERISA.View "W.G. Clark Constr. Co. v. Pac. Nw. Reg'l Council of Carpenters" on Justia Law
PT Air Watchers v. Dep’t of Ecology
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the Department of Ecology erred in determining that no environmental impact statement (EIS) was necessary for a proposed energy cogeneration project, and failed to adequately consider the effects of carbon dioxide emissions and demand for woody biomass from the state's forests. In addition, the issue on appeal centered on whether the project was exempt from the EIS requirement as part of an energy recovery facility that existed before January 1, 1989. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Ecology adequately reviewed the relevant information in determining that the project would not have significant impacts on the environment, and the project was exempt from the EIS requirement. View "PT Air Watchers v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law
Ellensburg Cement Prods., Inc. v. Kittitas County
Homer Gibson applied to Kittitas County for a conditional use permit (CUP) that would allow him to conduct rock crushing and other gravel and cement production related activities on his agricultural-zoned property. Kittitas gave notice that it would hold a public hearing on the CUP. Ellensburg Cement Products, Inc. objected to the CUP application and appealed Kittitas's SEPA Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) under the county's administrative appeal procedures. Kittitas first considered the SEPA appeal in a "closed record" hearing, and upheld the DNS. It then held an "open record" public hearing on the CUP, and granted Gibson's application over Ellensburg Cement's objections. Ellensburg Cement appealed both decisions to the superior court, which affirmed, and then to the Court of Appeals, which reversed. The Court of Appeals held that Kittitas was statutorily required to hold an "open record hearing" on the appeal of the SEP A DNS and that rock crushing was not a permissible conditional use under Kittitas's relevant zoning regulations. After its review, the Supreme Court found no error with the appellate court's decision and affirmed. View "Ellensburg Cement Prods., Inc. v. Kittitas County" on Justia Law
Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co.
At issue before the Supreme Court in this case was the state recreational use statute. Susan Camicia was injured when she was thrown from her bicycle after colliding with a wooden post on a portion of an Interstate I-90 bicycle trail in the City of Mercer Island. The City moved for summary judgment based on statutory immunity granted for unintentional injuries to landowners who allowed members of the public to use land for outdoor recreation (without charging a fee for the use). The appellate court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, holding that the recreational immunity could not be determined as a matter of law in this case because there were disputed facts as to whether the trial in question served a recreational purpose as opposed to a transportation purpose. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s reasoning and affirmed its decision. View "Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co." on Justia Law
Jones v. City of Seattle
The City of Seattle appealed an unpublished Court of Appeals decision that affirmed a $12.75 million verdict in favor of former Seattle fire fighter Mark Jones. Jones was injured when he fell fifteen feet through a station "pole hole." The City argued that the trial court erred by excluding three late-disclosed defense witnesses without first conducting the necessary inquiry under "Burnet v. Spokane Ambulance," (93 3 P .2d. 1036 (1997)) and by denying the City's motion to vacate the judgment on the basis of newly discovered evidence. After review, the Supreme Court found that though the trial court erred in excluding testimony by the late-disclosed witnesses, the Court agreed with both parties that the error was harmless. Further, the Court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the City's motion to vacate. Therefore the trial court was affirmed. View "Jones v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law