Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
Davison v. Washington
The plaintiff class in this case sued the State of Washington and the Office of Public Defense (OPD), alleging ongoing violations of the right to counsel in Grays Harbor County Juvenile Court. They premised state liability not only on alleged systemic, structural deficiencies in the state system, but also on the State and OPD’s alleged knowledge of Grays Harbor County’s specific failures to safeguard the constitutional right to counsel. The Washington Supreme Court determined that while the State bears responsibility to enact a statutory scheme under which local governments can adequately fund and administer a system of indigent public defense, it was not directly answerable for aggregated claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Rather, to prevail on their claims against the State, the plaintiff class had to show that the current statutory scheme systemically failed to provide local governments, across Washington, with the authority and means necessary to furnish constitutionally adequate indigent public defense services. Given that standard, the Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs’ claims premised on the State and OPD’s alleged knowledge or awareness of Grays Harbor County’s failure to provide adequate public defense services. “Such an allegation cannot support state liability even if we could fairly impute knowledge or awareness or awareness of a particular county’s failings to the State. Plaintiffs’ claims alleging systemic, structural deficiencies in the public defense system remained viable. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s denial of the State’s motion for summary judgment in part, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Davison v. Washington" on Justia Law
W.H. v. Olympia School Dist.
The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court in connection with the meaning of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW. The federal trial court asked: (1) whether a school district was subject to strict liability for discrimination by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and (2) if yes, then did "discrimination," for the purposes of this cause of action, encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault? Gary Shafer was hired by the Olympia School District in 2005 as a school bus driver. It was undisputed that Shafer, during his employment, abused passengers on school buses, including P.H. and S.A., the minor plaintiffs in this case. Plaintiffs sued the school district in federal court, naming multiple defendants, and claiming both state and federal causes of action. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which was granted in part and denied in part. In response to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative, 434 P.3d 39 (2019), plaintiffs successfully moved to amend their complaint to include a claim under the WLAD. The amended complaint alleges that the minor plaintiffs’ treatment constituted sex discrimination in a place of public accommodation. The Supreme Court answered "yes" to both certified questions: a school district may be subject to strict liability for discrimination in places of public accommodation by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and under the WLAD, discrimination can encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault. View "W.H. v. Olympia School Dist." on Justia Law
Lee v. Evergreen Hosp. Med. Ctr.
Jeoung Lee filed a putative class action lawsuit against her former employer, King County Public Hospital District No. 2 d/b/a Evergreen Hospital Medical Center1 (Evergreen). Lee alleged Evergreen failed to give rest and meal breaks in accordance with Washington law. After nine months of litigation and the addition of a second named plaintiff, Evergreen moved to compel arbitration, alleging that the claims were covered under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Evergreen and the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) that governs nurse employment. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals on the ground that Evergreen waived the right to compel arbitration, and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. Because it affirmed on the ground of waiver, the Supreme Court declined to reach the issue of whether the claims were statutory or contractual under the CBA. View "Lee v. Evergreen Hosp. Med. Ctr." on Justia Law
Plein v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co.
Richard and Debra Plein sued USAA Casualty Insurance Company, alleging insurance bad faith. The Pleins hired three attorneys, two of whom were members of the Keller Rohrback LLP lawfirm (Keller), to represent them. But Keller had previously defended USAA in bad faith litigation for over 10 years. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, Keller would have been barred from representing the Pleins if the prior representation was in a matter "substantially related" to the Plein matter. Interpreting the "substantially related" language in the Rules of Professional Conduct was one of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court. The Court held that under RPC 1.9(a), USAA failed to show a "substantial risk" that Keller obtained 'confidential factual information" that would 'materially advance" the Pleins’ case. Accordingly, Keller did not represent former client USAA on any matter "substantially related" to the instant case. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals decision that disqualification was required, and reinstated the trial court’s order that disqualification was not required. View "Plein v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co.
In 1854, the Washington Territory and nine Native American tribes, including the Squaxin Island Tribe (the Tribe), entered into the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek (the Treaty), under which the Tribe relinquished their rights to land but retained “the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations . . . , in common with all citizens of the Territory.” The District Court for the Western District of Washington has interpreted “fish” under the Treaty to include shellfish. In 1978, Leslie and Harlene Robbins (Robbins) purchased property in Mason County, Washington that included tidelands with manila clam beds. In connection with the purchase of the property, Robbins obtained a standard policy of title insurance from Mason County Title Insurance Company (MCTI) which provided MCTI would insure Robbins “against loss or damage sustained by reason of: . . . [a]ny defect in, or lien or encumbrance on, said title existing at the date hereof.” For years Robbins had contracted with commercial shellfish harvesters to enter Robbins’s property to harvest shellfish from the tidelands. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether MCTI had a duty to defend Robbins when the Tribe announced it planned to assert its treaty right to harvest shellfish from the property. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that because the insurance policy conceivably covered the treaty right and no exceptions to coverage applied, MCTI owed the property owners a duty to defend and, in failing to do so, breached the duty. Because this breach was unreasonable given the uncertainty in the law, MCTI acted in bad faith. Further, because the property owners did not seek summary judgment on MCTI’s affirmative defenses, the Supreme Court remanded to the superior court for consideration of the defenses. View "Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Denney v. City of Richland
Christopher Denney, a firefighter, sued the city of Richland, Washington in 2017. He argued the city violated the Public Records Act by withholding two investigative complaints Denney made about on-the-job harassment and discrimination. In 2019, both Denney and the city filed cross motions for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment for the city and denied Denney’s motion, finding the requested records were properly exempted from disclosure as attorney work product. The city promptly filed its notice of presentation three days after the February 12, 2019 judgment. On March 14, 2019, the final judgment was entered against Denny, awarding taxable costs to the city for a total judgment of $200. Because Denney filed his appeal more than 30 days after the summary judgment order was issued, the Court of Appeals sua sponte set the matter for dismissal as untimely. Denney argued the 30-day limitation ran from the March 14 judgment; alternatively, he asked for an extension of time based on the extraordinary circumstance that the February 12 order was misleading. The Court of Appeals commissioner disagreed, noting that under RAP 2.2(a)(1), “[t]he language Mr. Denney quotes from the [trial court’s] Order was not misleading because it clearly refers to entry of a judgment in favor of the City, as the ‘prevailing party.’ The requested judgment is for a judgment that awards specific amounts as costs to the City.” The commissioner dismissed Denney’s appeal, which Denney then moved to modify. The Chief Judge denied the motion in part, upholding the commissioner’s ruling dismissing Denney’s appeal of the February 12 order and granting the motion as to the appeal of the March 14 final judgment on the “limited scope of the [$200] cost award.” Denney moved for discretionary review with the Washington Supreme Court, which found that a summary judgment order disposing of all claims can constitute a final judgment, thereby starting the 30-day appeal deadline. An appeal of a trial court decision on the merits brings along a subsequent cost award, but a timely appeal of a cost judgment does not bring along review on the merits. Here, the Court found the summary judgment order wholly resolved Denney’s suit on the merits and reserved a cost award for later determination, triggering the deadline. Denny filed his appeal more than 30 days after the summary judgment and dismissal order issue. However, because Denney’s misinterpretation of the RAPs was an excusable error, the Supreme Court held Denney’s case warranted an extension of time to appeal. The Court therefore reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Denney v. City of Richland" on Justia Law
Rocha v. King County
This case involved claims against King County, Washington regarding jury selection and compensation. In 2016, petitioners filed a class action complaint in Pierce County, Washington Superior Court. They contended: (1) they had standing to file suit under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act; (2) jurors were employees entitled to minimum wage under Washington's Minimum Wage Act; and (3) RCW 2.36.080(3) created an implied cause of action for increased juror reimbursement based on economic status. Petitioners alleged that low rates of expense reimbursement have a greater impact on low-income jurors and asserted that this causes many jurors to seek excusal on the basis of financial hardship or to simply not respond to summons. Petitioners Nicole Bednarczyk and Catherine Selin sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the superior court’s summary judgment dismissal of their declaratory relief, minimum wage, and disparate impact claims regarding jury service in King County. The Washington Supreme Court found standing was satisfied, but that jurors were not employees entitled to minimum wage, and there was no implied cause of action for requiring increased pay for jurors under RCW 2.36.080(3). "While we do not reach the inherent authority arguments, we take this opportunity to comment that low juror reimbursement is a serious issue that has contributed to poor juror summons response rates. The concerns raised by amici and petitioners as to the impact of low juror reimbursement on juror diversity, low-income jurors, and the administration of justice as a whole are valid points. While we should continue to cooperate with the other branches of government in an effort to address the long-standing problems identified by petitioners and amici, these concerns are best resolved in the legislative arena." View "Rocha v. King County" on Justia Law
Ehrhart v. King County
Brian Ehrhart died within days of contracting hantavirus near his Issaquah, Washington home in early 2017. His widow, Sandra Ehrhart, sued King County’s public health department, Swedish Medical Center, and an emergency room physician, arguing all three had negligently caused Brian's death. King County asserted public duty as an affirmative defense, arguing it was not liable for Brian’s death because it did not owe him any duty as an individual. Ehrhart moved for partial summary judgment asking the court to dismiss this defense and others. The trial court granted Ehrhart’s motion but conditioned its ruling on the jury finding particular facts. King County appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court accepted direct discretionary review. The issues presented were: (1) whether the trial court could properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; and (2) whether the regulations governing King COunty's responsibility to issue health advisories created a duty owed to Brian individually as opposed to a non actionable duty owed to the public as a whole. The Supreme Court determined the trial court could not properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; summary judgment was appropriate only when there were no genuine issues of material fact. The Court concluded King County did not owe an individualized duty to Brian, and no exception to the public duty doctrine applied in this case. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court, and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of King County on its public duty doctrine defense. View "Ehrhart v. King County" on Justia Law
Fireside Bank v. Askins
In August 2004, the Askinses purchased a used car by entering into a retail installment contract with East Sprague Motors & R.V.'s, Inc. for $13,713.44 at an interest rate of 18.95% per year. The contract was contemporaneously assigned to Fireside Bank (formerly known as Fireside Thrift Co.). The Askinses made two years of regular payments, then returned the car to Fireside in an attempt to satisfy the loan. However, the loan was never satisfied. Fireside sold the car for less than the remaining balance owed, leaving the Askinses with an ongoing obligation. Fireside then sued the Askinses for the remaining balance of the loan. The Askinses did not appear, and the court entered a default judgment against them, which included prejudgment interest, costs and attorney fees. Fireside assigned the debt to Cavalry Investments, LLC, in 2012. For the next 8 years, the Askinses were subjected to 14 writs of garnishment and several unsuccessful attempts at garnishment by Fireside and Cavalry. Approximately $10,849.16 was collected over the course of the garnishment proceedings. Fireside and Cavalry did not file any satisfactions of the garnishment judgments or partial satisfactions of the underlying judgment. Cavalry’s final writ of garnishment, obtained on August 3, 2015, stated that the Askinses still owed $11,158.94. This case presented an opportunity for the Washington Supreme Court to discuss the limits of CR60, in cases where a creditor uses the garnishment process to enforce a default judgment against a debtor. The Court held CR 60 may not be used to prosecute an independent cause of action separate and apart from the underlying cause of action in which the original order or judgment was filed. The Court held the trial court properly considered argument and evidence relevant to the questions of what was still owed on the underlying existing judgment and whether that judgment had been satisfied. The trial court correctly ruled that the judgment had been satisfied and ordered that the Askinses were entitled to prospective relief. View "Fireside Bank v. Askins" on Justia Law
Judges of Benton and Franklin Counties v. Killian
The judges of Benton and Franklin Counties (Washington) superior court issued local rules ordering the county clerk to maintain paper files of court documents. Believing electronic files were preferable, Michael Killian, the clerk of Franklin County, refused, and the judges sought a writ of mandamus to compel him to comply. The superior court issued the writ. After review, the Washington Supreme Court vacated the writ. The judges responded with an alternative plan, asking for a declaratory judgment. The Washington Supreme Court determined the writ of mandamus should have never been issued because the judges had an adequate alternative remedy available to them. Regardless, the Supreme Court determined the county clerk, not the judges, got to select the open, accessible format in which court documents were safely and accessibly maintained. View "Judges of Benton and Franklin Counties v. Killian" on Justia Law