Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Jessica Wrigley brought a negligent investigation claim against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) based on the placement of her son, A.A., with his biological father, Anthony Viles, during dependency hearings. Within three months of the placement, Viles killed A.A. The superior court dismissed Wrigley’s claim on summary judgment, finding the duty to investigate was never triggered. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the “trigger” was Wrigley’s prediction that Viles would harm A.A. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding a report predicting future abuse absent evidence of current or past conduct of abuse or neglect did not invoke a duty to investigate under RCW 26.44.050. View "Wrigley v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Lowe's Home Centers sought reimbursement of state sales taxes and Business and Occupation ("B&O") taxes from the Washington Department of Revenue ("DOR") because it contracted with banks to offer private-label credit cards to its customers, and agreed to repay the banks for losses it sustained when customers defaulted on their accounts. RCW 82.08.050 provided that a seller must collect and remit sales taxes to the State; for sellers unable to recoup sales taxes from buyers, RCW 82.08.037(1) provided that sellers could claim a deduction "for sales taxes previously paid on bad debts." In a split decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of reimbursement. After its review, the Washington Supreme Court held that although banks were involved in the credit transaction, Lowe's was still the seller burdened with the loss from its customers' defaults, including their nonpayment of the sales taxes. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Lowe's Home Ctrs., LLC v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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At issue was the promulgation of a novel rule by the Washington Department of Ecology addressing climate change. Specifically, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Washington Clean Air Act granted the Department broad authority to establish and enforce greenhouse gas emission standards for businesses and utilities that did not directly emit greenhouse gases, but whose products ultimately did. The Department claimed and exercised such authority in promulgating the rule at issue. The Supreme Court held that by its plain language and structure, the Act limited the applicability of emissions standards to actual emitters. "Ecology's attempt to expand the scope of emission standards to regulate nonemitters therefore exceeds the regulatory authority granted by the Legislature." The Court invalidated the Rule to the extent that it exceeded the Department's regulatory authority, while recognizing the Department could continue to enforce the Rule in its authorized applications to actual emitters. View "Ass'n of Wash. Bus. v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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A wine bottle shattered in Rolfe Godfrey's hand while he was working as a bartender, injuring him. He filed a products liability suit against the winery, St. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd. and the bottle manufacturer, Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc. (collectively, Ste. Michelle). The case was assigned to Pierce County, Washington Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson, who set the initial case schedule, including discovery deadlines. The case was later reassigned to Judge Katherine Stolz, who, upon a stipulated and jointly proposed order, extended the parties' deadlines to disclose their witnesses. This case turned on the nature of that stipulated order. Two months later, and before Judge Stolz made any other rulings in the case, Godfrey filed an affidavit of prejudice and a motion for Judge Stolz's recusal under former RCW 4.12.040 and .050. Judge Stolz denied the motion, concluding that the earlier stipulated order to extend witness disclosure deadlines involved discretion and, thus, the affidavit of prejudice was not timely. Judge Stolz presided over the bench trial. Ste. Michelle prevailed, and Godfrey appealed. The Washington Supreme Court concluded that under Washington law, a party does not lose the right to remove a judge when the judge takes certain categories of actions, including arranging the calendar. The Court held that a stipulated order extending discovery deadlines that did not delay the trial or otherwise affect the court's schedule was an order arranging the calendar under the former RCW 4.12.050. Accordingly, the affidavit of prejudice was timely, and the case should have been reassigned to a different judge. View "Godfrey v. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In 2015, Edward Kilduff filed a two-part Public Records Act ("PRA") request stemming from a wetlands classification dispute a subsequent investigation into improper government action ("IGA"). The public records clerk acknowledged the request and indicated a response would follow "within the next 5-10 business days." A San Juan County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney called Kilduff to discuss his records request. The attorney had previously directed a code enforcement officer to segregate the IGA file from the code enforcement file, and according to the attorney, Kilduff agreed to accept the final redacted IGA report in lieu of his records request. Kilduff disputed he agreed to limit his request, and claims he never received anything in writing memorializing the alleged modification of his request. Forty-five pages of documents responsive to the request were produced, as was an emailed copy of the redacted IGA report. No exemption log was included that would indicated any additional responsive records existed but were withheld. Thereafter, Kilduff sued San Juan County, alleging it violated the PRA by failing to conduct a reasonable search for responsive records, and silently withholding records without an exemption. The county denied the allegations and raised the affirmative defense that Kilduff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court ultimately ruled in the County's favor, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed. "[T]he people 'do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them' or 'give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not for them to know.'" The Court determined nothing in the PRA gave local governments the right to create another layer of administrative review or to require administrative exhaustion before the public may seek judicial review. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of Kilduff's PRA claim and held public records requesters were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a PRA lawsuit. Furthermore, although Kilduff lacked standing to bring an ouster claim, the trial court abused its discretion when it imposed fees and sanctions. View "Kilduff v. San Juan County" on Justia Law

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King County, Washington enacted a first-of-its-kind ordinance that required electric, gas, water and sewer utilities to pay for the right to use the county's rights-of-way (franchise). The associated planned charge was called "franchise compensation," and was based on an estimate of a franchise's value. If the county and utility couldn't agree on an amount, the county barred the utility from using its rights-of-way. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the County's authority to collect franchise compensation. Secondarily, the issue was whether water-sewer districts or private utilities could use the rights-of-way without a franchise from the County. The superior court ruled King County lacked authority to collect franchise compensation. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that generally, King County could collect franchise compensation. Water-sewer districts and private utilities had no general right to use King County's rights-of-way without a franchise. View "King County v. King County Water Dists." on Justia Law

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Krista Peoples and Joel Stedman filed Washington Consumer Protection Act ("CPA") suits against their insurance carriers for violating Washington claims-handling regulations and wrongfully denying them personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. The federal district court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law relating to whether Peoples and Stedman alleged an injury to "business or property" to invoke their respective policies' PIP benefits. Peoples alleged her insurance carrier refused, without any individualized assessment, to pay medical provider bills whenever a computerized review process determined the bill exceeded a predetermined limit, and that the insurance company's failure to investigate or make individualized determinations violated WAC 284-30-330(4) and WAC 284-30-395(1). Due to this practice of algorithmic review, the insurance carrier failed to pay all reasonable medical expenses arising from a covered event, in violation or RCW 48.22.005(7). Stedman alleged his carrier terminate PIP benefits whenever an insured reached "Maximum Medical Improvement," which he alleged violated WAC 284-30-395(1). The Washington Supreme Court held an insurance carrier's wrongful withholding of PIP benefits injures the insured in their "business or property." An insured in these circumstances may recover actual damages, if proved, including out-of-pocket medical expenses that should have been covered, and could seek injunctive relief, such as compelling payment of the benefits to medical providers. Other business or property injuries, apart from wrongful denial of benefits, that are caused by an insurer's mishandling of PIP claims are also cognizable under the CPA. View "Peoples v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Gildardo Vargas was working on a construction project when a concrete-carrying hose hit him in the head, and caused a severe traumatic brain injury. Vargas and his family sued the general contractor, the concrete supplier, and the concrete pumper for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the general contractor was directly liable for providing a safe workplace, and whether any breach proximately caused Vargas’ injury. View "Vargas v. Inland Washington, LLC" on Justia Law

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First Student, Inc., a school bus contractor, sought to reverse a Court of Appeals decision to affirm dismissal of its business and occupation ("B&O") tax refund action. At issue was whether First Student's transporting of students qualified as transporting persons "for hire" such that it made First Student subject to the public utility tax ("PUT") rather than the general B&O tax. The Washington Supreme Court found the meaning of "for hire" was ambiguous as used in the PUT, but resolved the ambiguity in favor of the long-standing interpretation that school buses were excluded from the definitions of "motor transportation business" and "urban transportation business" under RCW 82.16.010(6) and (12). The Court found that WAC 458-20-180 was a valid interpretation of the statute, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "First Student, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Respondent Evergreen Freedom Foundation (Foundation) filed a Public Records Act (PRA) request for the names and addresses of individuals who provided subsidized childcare under Washington's Working Connections Child Care program (WCCC). After the Foundation filed its request, but before any records were released, voters passed an initiative exempting those names and addresses from PRA coverage and prohibiting agencies from releasing them. The question presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review in this case was whether that initiative barred release even though it did not take effect until after the Foundation made its public records request. The Supreme Court held that the answer was yes. View "Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Local 925 v. Dep't of Early Learning" on Justia Law