Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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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The issue central to this appeal centered on a “covenant judgment” arrangement: an insured defendant, facing suit by a plaintiff, settles claims without the insurer’s consent in exchange for a release from liability and assignment of potential bad faith claims against the insurer to the plaintiff. If the trial court deems the settlement reasonable, that settlement amount becomes the presumptive measure of damages in the later bad faith action brought by the plaintiff against the insurer. Insurer Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters (Cincinnati), challenged the trial court’s order approving as reasonable a $1.7 million settlement between plaintiffs, Anna and Jeffrey Wood (Woods), and Cincinnati’s insureds, Milionis Construction Inc. (MCI) and Stephen Milionis. A divided Court of Appeals held the trial court abused its discretion because the reasonableness finding credited a defense expert’s evaluation of contract damages at $1.2 million despite other evidence in the record suggesting the defense’s evaluation of damages never rose above $399,000. The Washington Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court’s order. The Supreme Court found the trial court properly conducted the reasonableness hearing and evaluated the varied and conflicting evidence of contract damages. In addition, the court appropriately considered damages for plaintiffs’ extracontractual claims as well as allowable attorney fees. "In finding an abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeals majority misapprehended parts of the record and substituted its assessment of the competing damages evaluations for the trial court’s assessment." View "Wood v. Milionis Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Juan Enriquez-Martinez was in custody in Oregon, held on both Washington and Oregon pending charges. For his Washington conviction, he was denied credit for the time he spent in jail in Oregon on a variety of grounds. Finding none of those grounds availing, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for recalculation of the credit to which Petitioner was entitled on his Washington charges. View "Washington v. Enriquez-Martinez" on Justia Law

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The Rinehold and Renne families disputed the location of the shared boundary line between their respective Mason County, Washington properties. They agreed the property was subdivided in the 1950s by surveyor W.O. Watson, and that the boundary line was where Watson located it. But they disagreed about where Watson located that boundary. The Rineholds commissioned a professional retracement survey of the property line in 2015. They contended the survey definitively established the boundary location, absent a countervailing survey or adverse possession. Thus, they claimed, they were entitled to partial summary judgment as to the “record title” location of the boundary. The Rennes contended inconsistencies in the 2015 retracement survey and ambiguity in Watson’s use of the terms “street” and “road- way” created a dispute of material fact that had to go to a jury. The Washington Supreme Court agreed with the Rennes and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Rinehold v. Renne" on Justia Law

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Antonia Nyman was renting a backyard cottage to Dan Hanley when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She sought to evict Hanley and gave him 60 days’ notice of her intention to move into the unit herself. Due to this unprecedented pandemic, Washington Governor Jay Inslee temporarily halted most evictions, but not for landlords seeking to occupy the unit personally. A federal eviction moratorium imposed by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also temporarily halted some evictions, but not for tenants who have violated a contractual obligation (with certain specified exceptions). The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Hanley violated a contractual obligation by holding over in his unit after his lease expired by its terms. Based on undisputed facts before us, the Court held that he did. "While the CDC order may be more protective than Washington’s eviction proclamation in some instances, it does not apply here. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court and lift the stay of the writ of restitution." View "Nyman v. Hanley" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this case to address a concern about inconsistent practices among the three divisions of the Washington Court of Appeals in creating case titles in dependency and termination proceedings. Inconsistency in the use of parties’ names in such case titles has been an issue among Washington appellate courts. While all three divisions generally use initials in place of children’s names, Division One routinely added parents’ full names to case titles along with their designation as “appellant.” Division Two often changed case titles to designate appealing parents, but used parents’ initials rather than their names. And Division Three typically did not include the names or initials of appealing parents. In this case, Division One followed its typical practice by changing the case title from that created in the superior court to add the mother’s full name and replace the child’s name with initials, while retaining the child’s birth date. The Supreme Court concluded this practice was inconsistent with RAP 3.4 and the 2018 Court of Appeals General Order. Accordingly, the case was remanded with instructions for the Court of Appeals to revise the case title in accordance with the court rule and general order. View "In re Welfare of K.D." on Justia Law

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Reverend George Taylor was a long-time climate activist. Rev. Taylor has made many attempts to mitigate the risks of coal and oil trains passing through Spokane, Washington. After repeated efforts without effect, he organized a peaceful protest on Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF Railway) railroad tracks. As a result, Rev. Taylor was charged with criminal trespass in the second degree and unlawful obstruction of a train. In response, he raised the necessity defense. Rev. Taylor believed his actions were necessary to prevent the imminent harms of climate change and train derailment. Whether the necessity defense was ultimately available to him depended on when a defendant has demonstrated that there were no reasonable legal alternatives to violating the law. This case went before the Washington Supreme Court due to a conflict between Division Three and Division One of the Court of Appeals in Washington v. Ward, 438 P.3d 588, review denied, 193 Wn.2d 1031 (2019). Division Three issued a split decision affirming the superior court, holding that Rev. Taylor could not present the necessity defense because “[t]here are always reasonable legal alternatives to disobeying constitutional laws.” The Supreme Court found that whie there were always alternatives in the abstract, an alternative that repeatedly failed when attempted was not a reasonable alternative. Because Rev. Taylor raised an issue of fact whether his actions were reasonable under the necessity defense, given his previous ineffective efforts to exercise legal alternatives, the Supreme Court reversed on this issue. View "Washington ex rel. Haskell v. Spokane County Dist. Court" 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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Doy Coogan died of peritoneal mesothelioma after years of asbestos exposure through his automotive repair work and excavation business. A jury unanimously found Genuine Parts Company (GPC) and National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) liable for Coogan’s wrongful death and entered an $81.5 million verdict for his family and estate. GPC and NAPA moved for a new trial or alternatively a remittitur of damages, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in part and vacated the jury’s damages award. Though it rejected claims for a new trial premised on alleged misconduct by plaintiff’s counsel, it concluded that the trial court erred by excluding one of GPC and NAPA’s expert witnesses and that the jury’s award was excessive. Specifically, the Court of Appeals rejected the jury’s award of noneconomic damages in favor of its own “necessarily . . . subjective” determination that the amount of damages was “so excessive that it shock[ed] the court’s conscience.” The Washington Supreme Court granted review to address the appropriate standards for reviewing post-trial motions to set aside jury verdicts. "While appellate review serves an essential purpose in safeguarding the integrity of the jury process, it must remain limited." The Court concluded the Court of Appeals overstepped its limited role and inappropriately substituted its own judgment for that of the trial court and the jury. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the jury's verdict was reinstated in full. View "Coogan v. Genuine Parts Co." on Justia Law