Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Chem-Safe Environmental was a hazardous waste facility located in Kittitas County. 2002. While inspecting a neighboring facility, James Rivard, the Kittitas County environmental supervisor, and Gary Bleeker, an Ecology employee, saw drums labeled as hazardous waste on property belonging to ChemSafe and ABC Holdings. Rivard learned that Chem-Safe did not hold a permit to handle or store moderate risk waste. Over the next two years, both Kittitas County and Ecology employees visited the Chem-Safe facility together, e-mailed one another about the matter, and met to discuss the progress in bringing Chem-Safe into compliance with state and local regulations. Eventually, Kittitas County issued a "Notice of Violation and Abatement" (NOVA) requiring Chem-Safe to halt operations until it obtained the necessary permits and equipment and conducted contamination testing. Chem-Safe appealed a hearing officer's ruling, which was subsequently affirmed by the superior court and the Court of Appeals. During the course of the litigation, Kittitas County deputy prosecutors sent several e-mails back and forth to Ecology employees. In one of those e-mails, an Ecology employee e-mailed a county deputy prosecutor, asking, "Should these emails be considered attorney-client privileged?" The Kittitas County deputy prosecutor responded, "[Ecology] is not my client (Kittitas County is), therefore, these e-mails are not attorney-client privileged." The assistant attorney general opined there might be other privileges that applied to the e-mails but that she lacked enough information to know the specific options for keeping the e-mails privileged; thus, the record reflected only the parties' understanding of whether Kittitas County and Ecology's communications with one another were attorney-client privileged. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review were two important aspects of the work product doctrine: (1) were the e-mails exchanged between the Kittitas County and the Department of Ecology work product; and (2) if yes, were they discoverable under the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW? The Court held the e-mails were work product because they were prepared by or for Kittitas County in anticipation of litigation. Furthermore, the Court found Kittitas County did not waive its work product protection because disclosure of the e-mails to Ecology never created a significant likelihood that an adversary would also obtain the information. View "Kittitas County v. Allphin" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a city council's restrictive zoning decision was judicially reviewable under chapter 36.70C RCW, the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), where the ordinance targeted a single property with a sole owner and was not an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan. Because such a land use decision was a site-specific rezone and therefore reviewable under LUPA, the Court reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals to proceed on the merits of the city's appeal of the superior court's decision and for other proceedings. View "Schnitzer W., LLC v. City of Puyallup" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case began in 2016 when the two named plaintiffs filed this putative class action lawsuit against Dovex on behalf of Dovex's seasonal and migrant agricultural employees. Each summer, Dovex employs hundreds of seasonal and migrant workers, many of whom speak limited English, to harvest apples, pears, and cherries in Dovex's orchards. The plaintiffs alleged Dovex violated state and federal law by willfully refusing to pay wages and failing to "pay minimum wage, provide paid rest breaks, maintain accurate and adequate time and wage records, pay wages when due, [and] provide accurate statements of hours worked." The federal court asked: (1) whether Washington law requires agricultural employers to pay their pieceworkers for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work); if yes, then how must agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work)? The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question “yes:” agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis. The Court answered the second question posed consistent with the parties’ position: the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work must be calculated at the applicable minimum wage or the agreed rate, whichever was greater. View "Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co." on Justia Law

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This case asked the Washington Supreme Court to clarify the scope of Washington's recreational use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210. Margie Lockner was injured when she fell from her bicycle on a trail maintained by Pierce County (County). Lockner sued the County for negligence. Finding that recreational use immunity precluded her suit because the unintentional injury happened on land open to the public for recreational use without a fee, the trial court dismissed Lockner's claim on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, mistakenly relying on the dissent in the Supreme Court's opinion in Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co., 317 P.3d 987 (2014), holding that a question of fact remained as to whether the trail was open to the public "solely" for recreational use. The Supreme Court reversed, finding RCW 4.24.210 immunity did not require sole recreational use before conferring immunity to landowners, and was not limited to premises liability claims. View "Lockner v. Pierce County" on Justia Law

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In 2008, a Jefferson County Public Transportation Benefit area vehicle collided with Michael Gilmore's vehicle. Gilmore brought a personal jury lawsuit against Jefferson Transit for injuries he allegedly sustained in that collision. At trial, he was awarded $1.2 million for past and future economic losses. Jefferson Transit appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence, barring certain evidence, and in determining Gilmore's counsel's closing arguments did not require a new trial. The Court of Appeals reversed as to all issues Jefferson Transit raised. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion with respect to the evidence admitted at trial, "[w]e will not disturb the trial court's decision unless 'such a feeling of prejudice [has] been engendered or located in the minds of the jury as to prevent a litigant from having a fair trial." With respect to closing arguments, the Supreme Court nothing in the record suggested it was incurably prejudicial. "By rationalizing Gilmore's counsel's statements as 'technique' and failing to object after being given several opportunities, it is clear that Jefferson Transit's counsel perceived no error and was 'gambling on the verdict.'" View "Gilmore v. Jefferson County Pub. Transp. Benefit Area" on Justia Law

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Ricardo and Luz Garcia and Ted and Andean Henley were neighbors in Tieton, Washington. The two families' plots shared a boundary line separated by a fence. The Henleys rebuilt the boundary fence multiple times during the 1990s. Each time, the fence crept farther and farther on to the Garcia property. The largest encroachment, extending a foot across the boundary line, occurred in 1997 while the Garcias were on vacation. The Garcias objected to this intrusion, but took no legal or other action. In 2011, the Henleys again moved the fence. Mr. Garcia placed apple bins along a portion of the 1997 fence to prevent the Henleys from creeping farther onto the property. As a result, the 2011 fence tracked the 1997 fence for that shielded portion, but arced onto the Garcia plot for the 67 feet that did not have apple bins protecting it, encroaching an additional half foot. The Garcias again requested that the Henleys move the fence, and the Henleys refused. The Garcias initiated suit in 2012, seeking ejectment and damages. The Henleys counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title in their name. In closing argument, the Henleys raised the doctrine of "[d]e[m]inimis [e]ncroachment" to argue that any minor deviation from the boundary line of the adversely possessed property should be disregarded. The trial court determined the Henleys adversely possessed the land encompassed by the 1997 fence, but that the 2011 fence encroached an additional 33.5 square feet, and that 2011 sliver had not been adversely possessed. Rather than grant an injunction ordering the Henleys to abate the continuing trespass and move the fence, the trial court ordered the Garcias to sell the 2011 sliver to the Henleys for $500. The Washington Supreme Court found that in exceptional circumstances, when equity so demands, a court may deny an ejectment order and instead compel the landowner to convey a property interest to the encroacher. To support such an order, the court must reason through the elements listed in Arnold v. Melani, 450 P.2d 815 (1968). The burden of showing each element by clear and convincing evidence lied with the encroacher. If not carried, failure to enter an otherwise warranted ejection order is reversible error. The Supreme Court determined the Henleys failed to carry their burden. The matter was reversed and remanded to the trial court; the Garcias were entitled to ejectment as a matter of law. View "Garcia v. Henley" on Justia Law

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Judith Chavez and other registered nurses (nurses) sought class certification in their wage action against their employer, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital at Pasco d/b/a Lourdes Medical Center and John Serle (Lourdes). The trial court denied class certification, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly found that the nurses failed to satisfy the predominance and superiority requirements necessary for class certification. The Court held the trial court abused its discretion by finding that individual issues predominate and by failing to compare alternative methods of adjudication. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that predominance was met because the dominant and overriding issue in this litigation was whether Lourdes failed to ensure the nurses could take rest breaks and second meal periods and could record missed breaks. Superiority was met because a class action was superior to other methods of adjudication for the resolution of these claims. View "Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hosp. at Pasco" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff James Bearden sued Dolphus McGill after they were involved in a car accident. They went to mandatory arbitration, and the arbitrator awarded plaintiff Bearden $44,000.00 in damages. Bearden moved for statutory costs under RCW 4.84.010 as the prevailing party. The arbitrator, consistent with MAR 6.4(d), filed an amended award granting the fee request. The amended award granted $1,187.00 in costs to the plaintiff, amounting to a total award of $45,187.00. Defendant McGill requested a trial de novo. At trial, the jury awarded Bearden $42,500.00 in damages and $3,296.39 in RCW 4.84.010 costs for a total award of $45,796.39. Bearden moved for attorney fees under MAR 7.3, arguing that McGill had not improved his position at trial because the trial award of $45,796.39 exceeded the arbitral award of $45,187.00. The trial judge agreed and awarded Bearden $71,800.00 in attorney fees and costs incurred as a result of the trial. McGill appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by including trial costs in the MAR 7.3 comparison. The Court of Appeals vacated the award of attorney fees and costs to Bearden, holding that the proper comparison was between the common elements of the awards in both proceedings, including only "those costs and fees litigated before both the arbitrator and trial court." The Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed that the determination of whether a requesting party's position was improved should follow the reasoning of an ordinary person. Accordingly, the Court held that statutory costs should be included. The Court of Appeals was therefore reversed. View "Bearden v. McGill" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The underlying case involved an insurance coverage dispute between two authorized foreign insurers, Ohio Security Insurance Company and AXIS Insurance Company. Ohio Security tried to serve AXIS at its office in Chicago, Illinois, rather than through the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. The United States District Court asked whether Washington law established service through the Washington State Insurance Commissioner (Insurance Commissioner) as the exclusive means of service for authorized foreign insurers in Washington. The answer to the certified question was yes: RCW 4.28.080(7)(a) provided the exclusive means of service on authorized foreign insurers. View "Ohio Sec. Ins. Co. v. AXIS Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The underlying case involved an insurance coverage dispute between two authorized foreign insurers, Ohio Security Insurance Company and AXIS Insurance Company. Ohio Security tried to serve AXIS at its office in Chicago, Illinois, rather than through the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. The United States District Court asked whether Washington law established service through the Washington State Insurance Commissioner (Insurance Commissioner) as the exclusive means of service for authorized foreign insurers in Washington. The answer to the certified question was yes: RCW 4.28.080(7)(a) provided the exclusive means of service on authorized foreign insurers. View "Ohio Sec. Ins. Co. v. AXIS Ins. Co." on Justia Law