Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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At issue was whether the Washington State Housing Finance Commission (“Commission”) had standing to challenge the National Homebuyers Fund’s (“NHF”) authority to provide down payment assistance to Washington residents in conjunction with federally insured mortgages. The Commission alleged NHF was falsely claiming governmental authority when it provided down payment assistance in Washington, impermissibly competing with the Commission’s own activities. The Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the Commission on the basis that the Commission lacked standing. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding the Commission indeed had standing. View "Wash. State Hous. Fin. Comm'n v. Nat'l Homebuyers Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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Teresa Banowsky filed a claim for medical malpractice in Washington district court on the last day of the statute of limitations, seeking over $100,000. District courts could exercise jurisdiction over medical malpractice claims, but not over claims seeking over $100,000. CRLH 14A(b) directs district courts to remove or transfer cases to superior court when any party asserts a claim in excess of the district court’s jurisdiction, or seeks a remedy beyond the court’s jurisdiction. The Washington Supreme Court held CRLJ 14A(b) validly and unambiguously required the district court to transfer Banowsky’s case to superior court. View "Banowsky v. Backstrom" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a first-party insurer, after obtaining a partial recovery in a subrogation action, had to reimburse its fault-free insureds for the full amount of their deductibles before any portion of the subrogation proceeds could be allocated to the insurer. Lazuri Daniels brought claims, and sought class action status, in a lawsuit against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company arguing that by failing to fully reimburse its insureds for their deductibles, State Farm violated both Washington law and the terms of its own insurance policy. The trial court dismissed the claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. In addressing conflicts between subrogated insurers and injured insureds, Washington law generally establishes priority for the interests of the insured through the "made whole doctrine." "Out of the recovery from the third party the insured is to be reimbursed first, for the loss not covered by insurance ,and the insurer is entitled to any remaining balance, up to a sum sufficient to reimburse the insurer fully, the insured being entitled to anything beyond that." If the insured still has uncompensated injuries, both the insurer and insured will generally be looking to recover from the same third party, and that party's own insurance and assets are not always sufficient to cover both claims. In such circumstances, there is a high potential for conflict between insureds who wish to be compensated for the full extent of the damages they have suffered, and first-party insurers who expect to be reimbursed for amounts they have advanced to the insured. Daniels argued that insureds' right to be fully compensated for their losses, including full reimbursement for deductibles, takes priority over an insurer's interest in recouping its payments through a direct subrogation action. The Washington Supreme Court concluded Daniels' complaint asserted valid claims for relief under the common law, under Washington insurance regulations, and under State Farm's own policy language. As such, dismissal was improper. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Daniels v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Cesar Beltran-Serrano, mentally ill and homeless, was shot multiple times by a Tacoma, Washington Police Officer, Michel Volk. Beltran-Serrano survived the shooting, and through a guardian ad liter, filed suit for negligence and assault and battery against the City of Tacoma. The superior court dismissed the negligence claims on summary judgment, agreeing with the City that Beltran-Serrano’s legal redress would have been as an intentional tort claim for assault and battery. The Washington Supreme Court reversed: “the fact that Officer Volk’s conduct may constitute assault and battery does not preclude a negligence claim premised on her alleged failure to use ordinary care to avoid unreasonably escalating the encounter to the use of deadly force.” The Court concluded Beltran-Serrano presented evidence to allow a jury to find that the City failed to follow accepted practices in Officer Volk’s interactions with him leading up to the shooting, and that his negligence resulted in his injuries. View "Beltran-Serrano v. City of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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On October 30, 2013, Consuelo Prieto Mariscal was driving her minivan in Pasco, Washington, with her daughter. There were vehicles, including an orange, pickup truck and a van, on the right side of the road. As Prieto passed the orange pickup truck, she heard a noise, felt her van jump a little, and saw a boy, Brayan, lying on the ground. Realizing Brayan was seriously hurt, her daughter called 911. Brayan was taken to a nearby hospital. Prieto and her daughter both told the police they did not see how the accident happened. There were no other eyewitnesses, and though the officer only spoke to Prieto and her daughter, he noted in his report the "bicyclist pulled into the roadway [and] was stuck on the left side and fell to the ground. The passenger side front tire drove over the child['s] right front leg." Brayan gave a number of statements, the most detailed of which related his right shoelace got stuck in the spokes of his bicycle and his right leg was run over when he leaned over to untangle the lace. Monica Diaz Barriga Figueroa, Brayan's mother, retained counsel, and signed a blank personal injury protection (PIP) application form. The English-speaking legal assistant completed the form for the Spanish-speaking Diaz, pulling language of the accident from the police report. The significant difference between the PIP form and Brayan's testimony became a central issue at trial. Prieto's counsel stressed the differences between Diaz's and Brayan's testimony and the PIP form; Diaz's counsel stress the PIP form was based on accounts from people who did not see the accident. At trial, and over Diaz's counsel's objection, Prieto's counsel referenced the PIP form as a statement against interest. Diaz's counsel moved to exclude the PIP form as privileged. The issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the form could be considered work product entitled to protection from disclosure. The Court determined that in this instance, where the insured gained the status of insured by statute, rather than contract, the form at issue was privileged. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded this matter back to the trial court for a new trial. View "Figueroa v. Mariscal" on Justia Law

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The Yakima County clerk was ordered by a superior court judge to procure a supplemental bond to maintain her elected office. The court warned that failure to comply would result in the court declaring the office vacant. The clerk sought a writ of prohibition from the Washington Supreme Court to prevent enforcement of the superior court's order. The Supreme Court denied the writ: the superior court judge did not exceed the court's jurisdiction by issuing the supplemental bond order; the clerk could have availed herself of "a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law - an injunction. Thus, prohibition will not lie." View "Riddle v. Elofson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court concerning premises liability. Shannon Adamson, an employee of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), fell approximately 15 feet when the passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham's (Port) Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) collapsed. The accident caused severe, life-changing injuries. The State of Alaska leased the BCT from the Port, allowing ferries to dock at the BCT and load and unload passengers and their vehicles. The Port elected to not implement an interlock device; when Adamson was operating the passenger ramp, slack was created in some attached cables. When she removed the locking pins, the ramp collapsed, snapped the cables, and Adamson and the ramp fell approximately 15 feet until the ramp caught on the ferry. Adamson and her husband sued the Port in federal court, alleging negligence and seeking damages for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. The federal court determined Adamson was the Port's business invitee; the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adamson and awarded over $16 million in damages. The court found the Port under three separate theories of liability: duty to a business invitee, duty as a landlord, and a promise to perform repairs under the lease contract. The issue presented to the Washington Supreme Court centered on whether a property owner-landlord was liable for injuries that occur on its property when the lessee has exclusive possession at the time of the accident but only priority use under the lease and the landlord has contracted to maintain and repair the premises. The Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and consequently, did not address the second question. View "Adamson v. Port of Bellingham" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kasey Harmon, a 53-year-old woman in failing health, was evicted from her home following a default judgment and writ of restitution. During the eviction, Harmon obtained an ex parte order staying enforcement of the judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973 (RLTA) prohibited such an order. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the RLTA did not apply to tenants, like Harmon, who contested entry of a default judgment in unlawful detainer actions: these actions were governed by the Civil Rules. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision, including the award of appellate attorney fees and costs to Reynolds. View "Randy Reynolds & Assocs. v. Harmon" on Justia Law

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L.M. suffered a severe injury during birth and subsequently sued Laura Hamilton, the midwife who delivered him, for negligence. Hamilton prevailed at trial. On appeal, L.M. argued the trial court erred by admitting evidence that natural forces of labor could have caused the injury and testimony from a biomechanical engineer to the same effect. L.M. argued the trial court should have excluded the evidence under Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), and the testimony under ER 702. The Washington Supreme Court found that under Frye, the trial court had to exclude evidence that was not based on generally accepted science. And under ER 702, the trial court had to exclude testimony from unqualified experts and testimony that was unhelpful to the jury. L.M.'s challenge concerned the extent to which the challenged science had to be "generally accepted." And his ER 702 challenge hinged on the amount of discretion an appellate court granted a trial court under the rule. Finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial and appellate courts. View "L.M. v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Thomas Clark, M.D., the Pierce County, Washington medical examiner, attempted to subpoena a video held by BNSF Railway Company of a fatal train-pedestrian collision. The parties disputed whether Dr. Clark properly began a coroner's inquest, and the extent of the subpoena power granted by the applicable statute. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether Dr. Clark exceeded his authority in issuing the subpoena. The Court held that because Dr. Clark never began an inquest, he lacked the authority to subpoena. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's issuance of a writ of prohibition. View "BNSF Ry. Co. v. Clark" on Justia Law