Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In Washington, a couple, the Lewises, moved into a rental property owned by another couple, the Ridgways. After the Lewises moved out, a dispute arose over the return of their security deposit. The Ridgways claimed the Lewises caused damage to the property and deducted repair costs from the deposit. The Lewises disputed these charges, and the case was sent to arbitration. During arbitration, the Lewises were awarded the full amount of their security deposit, but the Ridgways were given attorney fees under the small claims statute. The Lewises attempted to appeal the arbitration award and a pre-arbitration order granting partial summary judgment to the Ridgways. However, the Lewises did not personally sign their request for a trial de novo, a requirement under court rules and the arbitration statute.The Washington Supreme Court held that the Lewises' request for a trial de novo was ineffective because they did not personally sign the request, as required by the court rule and the arbitration statute. The court also held that, absent a valid request for a trial de novo, the Lewises could not appeal the pre-arbitration order granting partial summary judgment to the Ridgways. The court further stated that the question of who should be considered the prevailing party for the purpose of any attorney fee award needed further consideration, and remanded the case back to the lower court for determination of attorney fees. View "Crossroads Mgmt., LLC v. Ridgway" on Justia Law

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In the State of Washington, a man named Mitchell Heng was charged with murder, arson, and robbery. He was brought before a judge for a preliminary hearing without counsel, during which the judge set bail among other things. Heng argued that counsel should have been present at this hearing. The Supreme Court of the State of Washington agreed, noting that a person charged with a crime has a right to counsel under the state and federal constitutions and under court rules. However, the court found that Heng did not demonstrate that the hearing was a critical stage of the prosecution, and it believed that the absence of counsel did not contribute to the verdict. Consequently, the court affirmed the decisions of the lower courts.The facts of the case reveal that Heng was implicated in a robbery at Sifton Market during which Amy Hooser was killed. Surveillance footage showed Heng at the scene with a blood-stained shirt and a lighter in his hands. He was charged the next day with first degree murder, first degree robbery, and first degree arson. Heng was held in jail for 31 months before his trial, during which time he made inconsistent statements during recorded phone calls about the events of the night of the crime. He was eventually convicted of first degree murder and first degree arson and was sentenced to 374 months in prison.Heng appealed his conviction, arguing that his right to counsel had been violated at a critical stage of the prosecution. The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that while Heng should have had counsel present at his preliminary hearing, this did not constitute a critical stage of the prosecution. The court also noted that in order for an error to be considered structural and thus necessitate automatic reversal, it must have substantively affected the outcome of the case. The court determined that Heng’s case was not demonstrably affected by his counsel’s absence. As such, the court applied constitutional harmless error analysis, which requires the court to reverse unless it is persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the verdict. The court concluded that the failure to have counsel present at Heng’s preliminary hearing was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and thus affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. View "State v. Heng" on Justia Law

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Michael Shawn Charlton was arrested and charged with third-degree child rape, third-degree child molestation, and indecent liberties. He appeared in preliminary hearings without counsel, which he argued on appeal was a denial of his constitutional right to counsel at critical stages of the prosecution. The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that while the absence of counsel was indeed a constitutional error, it did not constitute a critical stage of litigation requiring automatic reversal. The court reasoned that nothing in the record suggested that Charlton's rights were lost, defenses were waived, privileges were claimed or waived, or that the outcome of the case was otherwise substantially affected by the absence of counsel. Furthermore, the court concluded that any error in not having counsel present was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. This is because there was no evidence to suggest that the lack of counsel affected the verdict in any way. Consequently, the court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "State v. Charlton" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington was asked to determine whether a landowner could delegate its duty to protect invitees on its premises from known or obvious dangers to an independent contractor. The case arose from the death of Jeffry Eylander, an employee of an independent contractor, Commercial Industrial Roofing Inc. (CIR), who fell through a skylight while cleaning the roof of a warehouse owned by Prologis Targeted U.S. Logistics Fund and Prologis Management LLC (collectively, Prologis). Eylander's daughter, as personal representative of his estate, sued Prologis for wrongful death, alleging that Prologis had breached its duty of reasonable care to protect Eylander from harm.The Court held that Prologis had reasonably delegated its duty of reasonable care to protect invitees from known or obvious dangers to CIR. The Court found that Prologis had fulfilled its duty by selecting a professional and experienced contractor, CIR, and by requiring CIR to follow all applicable laws, be solely responsible for the health and safety of its employees, and create and post a site-specific safety plan before starting work. Therefore, the Court affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Prologis. View "Eylander v. Prologis Targeted U.S. Logistics Fund" on Justia Law

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In the case presented, plaintiff Bette Bennett alleged that she suffered a traumatic brain injury due to medical negligence by the defendant, the United States. However, the cause of her injury was not diagnosed until after the eight-year statute of repose for medical malpractice actions under Washington law had expired, making it impossible for her to timely commence her lawsuit. The United States moved to dismiss her complaint as time-barred.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington was asked to decide whether the statute of repose violates certain provisions of the Washington Constitution. The court held that while the legislature has broad authority to set time limits for commencing an action, the eight-year statute of repose for medical malpractice actions under RCW 4.16.350(3) violates the privileges and immunities clause of article I, section 12 of the Washington Constitution. The court reasoned that the statute implicates the fundamental right of state citizenship by limiting the pursuit of common law claims against certain defendants, but it does not satisfy the "reasonable ground" test under the state constitution. Therefore, the court concluded that the statute of repose is unconstitutional under independent state law. The court declined to reach the second certified question regarding whether the statute of repose unconstitutionally restricts a plaintiff's right to access the courts in violation of the Washington Constitution. View "Bennett v. United States" on Justia Law

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In a prior case before the Washington Supreme Court, the Court rejected Petitioner Amanda Knight’s claim her separate convictions for felony murder (based on first-degree robbery) and first degree robbery violated the constitutional protection against double jeopardy. Double jeopardy did not apply because Knight’s felony murder and robbery convictions were premised on different conduct: the felony murder charge was based on the robbery of a safe whereas the first degree robbery was based on the robbery of a ring. Knight moved for reconsideration and that petition was denied. Here, Knight argued that given the Court’s previous holding, her conviction for felony murder had to be reversed because the jury was presented with insufficient evidence to justify a conviction for robbery of the safe. The Supreme Court concluded the basis for the felony murder conviction could not be sustained, granted Knight’s petition for relief, vacated the felony murder conviction and remanded for resentencing. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Knight" on Justia Law

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Carmella DeSean sought a Sexual Assault Protection Order Act (SAPOA) order against Isaiah Sanger after an evening of drinking ended in unwanted sex. At the evidentiary hearing, Sanger argued DeSean consented and had capacity to do so. The trial court found DeSean lacked capacity due to intoxication, declined to consider Sanger’s defense, and granted the SAPO. Sanger appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that under the SAPOA and Nelson v. Duvall, 387 P.3d 1158 (2017), the trial court should have considered Sanger’s affirmative defense. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that the SAPOA did not permit respondents in nonconsensual sexual penetration cases to raise the affirmative defense that they reasonably believed the victim had capacity to consent. "The plain language of the statute is unambiguous and omits affirmative defenses. The SAPOA functions independently from the criminal code, and we decline to graft a criminal defense into a statute intended to provide sexual assault victims with civil remedies." View "DeSean v. Sanger" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Respondent Vanessa Valdiglesias LaValle of two counts of criminal solicitation after she told her minor son, S.G., that he could be with her “forever” if he poisoned his father. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the ground that Valdiglesias LaValle’s offer to live with S.G. “forever” if S.G. killed his father did not constitute a “thing of value” within the meaning of RCW 9A.28.030(1). The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. The Court held the plain meaning of “money or other thing of value” in RCW 9A.28.030(1) unambiguously included both money and things that were not money but that, like money, possessed utility, desirability, significance, and/or economic value. "Nothing in the plain language or context of the statute indicates that 'other thing of value' must be limited to things with a traditional economic or market value." View "Washington v. Valdiglesias LaValle" on Justia Law

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Respondent John McWhorter pleaded guilty in adult court to crimes he committed when he was a juvenile. He later moved for resentencing to enable the trial court to consider the mitigating qualities of his youth. The superior court granted the motion for a resentencing hearing, and the State appealed this order to the Court of Appeals. That court ruled that the superior court’s order was not appealable by the State, so it dismissed the appeal. The State filed a petition for review to the Washington Supreme Court, who reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to that court to consider the State’s appeal. View "Washington v. McWhorter" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Dominique Avington argued his own trial testimony was sufficient to require a lesser included offense instruction for the shooting death of Terrance King. Specifically, Avington testified that although he fired his gun, he was not aiming directly at anyone, and he argued that his credibility should have been determined by the jury. The undisputed evidence at trial showed that the bullet that killed King did not come from Avington’s gun. As a result, Avington’s testimony about the direction of his aim did not create a question of fact for the jury as to whether he participated in King’s death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it declined to instruct the jury on first degree manslaughter as a lesser included offense of first degree murder by extreme indifference. Consistent with Washington v. Coryell, 483 P.3d 98 (2021), the answer was yes. "The record shows that the trial court carefully reviewed all of the evidence admitted at trial in light of the charged offenses, properly instructed the jury on accomplice liability, and properly exercised its discretion in declining to instruct the jury on a lesser included offense of first degree manslaughter." View "Washington v. Avington" on Justia Law