Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

by
The central issue in this case was whether the administrative exhaustion rule found in the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) applies to all tort claims that arise during the land use decision-making process. In late 2009, Maytown purchased real property in Thurston County, Washington from the Port of Tacoma (Port) for the express purpose of operating a mine. The property came with an approved 20-year special use permit (permit) from Thurston County (County) for mining gravel. Maytown and the Port claimed the County's board of commissioners (Board) succumbed to political pressure from opponents to the mine and directed the County's Resource Stewardship Department to impose unnecessary procedural hurdles meant to obstruct and stall the mining operation. Because the property had been designated by the County as "mineral land of long term commercial significance," the County was obligated to balance the protection of the mineral land with the protection of critical areas. Other issues raised by this case centered on whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding of a substantive due process violation 42 U.S.C. 1983; whether an aggrieved party can recover prelitigation, administrative fora attorney fees intentionally caused by the tortfeasor under a tortious interference claim; and, whether the Court of Appeals erred in awarding a request under RAP 18.1(b) for appellate attorney fees that was not made in a separate section devoted solely to that request. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals on all but the third issue raised: the tortious interference claims pled in this case did not authorize recovery of prelitigation, administrative fora attorney fees. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed in part, and reversed in part. View "Maytown Sand & Gravel, LLC v. Thurston County" on Justia Law

by
Sheila Rosenberg was invited to the home of Igor Lukashevich, her high school basketball coach. Lukashevich drank shots of vodka with Rosenberg, then shortly after leaving Lukashevich's home, Rosenberg was killed along with her boyfriend in a car accident. Michele Anderson, Rosenberg's mother sued Lukashevich's employer Soap Lake School District, but the trial court determined she failed to present sufficient evidence to support her claims. Therefore, the Washington Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the school district. View "Anderson v. Soap Lake Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

by
Jose Reyes died after a course of treatment for tuberculosis. Judith Reyes alleged that her husband did not have tuberculosis and that the treatment prescribed to him for that disease caused him fatal liver damage due to an undiagnosed, underlying, liver disease. Judith alleged that the Yakima Health District and Christopher Spitters, M.D., were negligent in treating Jose. A year after filing suit, her expert witness submitted an affidavit alleging as much. But because allegations of misdiagnosis without deviation from the proper standard of care was not the basis for liability, the Washington Supreme Court held that the expert witness' affidavit was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material face, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. "In so holding, we do not require talismanic words, but the words... the want of the right word makes lightning from lightening bugs." View "Reyes v. Yakima Health Dist." on Justia Law

by
Appellant Cynthia Stewart appealed after she was found ineligible for unemployment benefits. Stewart suffered from migraine headaches and took prescription medication to help manage her symptoms. Her former employer fired Stewart after she "came to work impaired due to prescription narcotics for the second time in a six-month period." Stewart's application for unemployment benefits was initially granted, but her former employer appealed, and an administrative law judge reversed. Stewart petitioned for review by the BSD commissioner, who affirmed that Stewart was ineligible for benefits. Stewart's petition was not subject to the procedural statutes in the Employment Security Act (ESA), Title 50, RCW; instead, her petition for judicial review was governed by the procedures listed in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), chapter 34.05 RCW. And pursuant to the APA, Stewart did not timely serve her petition on the ESD. She therefore failed to invoke the superior court's appellate jurisdiction, and the Washington Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly recognized that it was required to dismiss this case. View "Stewart v. Emp't Sec. Dep't" on Justia Law

by
The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case concerned a class action insurance claim suit pending in federal court. Plaintiff Brett Durant was a State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company insured, and carried a $35,000 personal injury protection (PIP) rider. In 2012, Durant was injured in a motor vehicle accident; he opened a PIP claim with State Farm. The "coverage letter" advised Durant that "Medical services must also be essential in achieving maximum medical improvement for the injury you sustained in the accident." Durant sought treatment with chiropractor Harold Rasmussen, DC, who diagnosed injuries including sprains to the neck, back, pelvis, and right shoulder. After a shoulder MRI showed a ligament sprain and "a possible small type I SLAP [(superior labral anteroposterior)] tear,"Durant was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed"mild bursitis/tendinitis,"which was treated with physical therapy and cortisone injections. Durant's injuries were not resolved by a date set by his physicians; his providers billed his PIP claims, but State Farm denied them on grounds that Durant had "previously reached maximum medical improvement." The federal district court asked the Washington Supreme Court (1) whether an insurer violates WAC 284-30-395(1)(a) or (b) if that insurer denied or terminated an insured's medical benefits based on a finding of "maximum medical improvement;" and (2) whether the term "maximum medical improvement" was consistent with the definition of "reasonable" or "necessary" as those terms appeared in WAC 284-30-395(1). The Washington Court answered the first certified question "yes." With regard to the second question, the Court found that under the circumstances of this case, the term "maximum medical improvement" was not consistent with the terms "reasonable" or "necessary" as those terms appeared in WAC 284-30-395(1). View "Durant v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether records containing trade secrets were categorically excluded from public disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW. Respondents Lyft Inc. and Rasier LLC operated car-hailing or "transportation networking companies" (TNC) in several locations, including the city of Seattle (City). After the City passed a 2014 ordinance that limited the number of TNC drivers active at any given time, Lyft and Rasier (collectively L/R) organized a coalition to overturn the ordinance through a voter referendum. In response to mediation among the City, L/R, and taxi and for-hire stakeholders in the ground transportation industry, the referendum proposal was withdrawn. The parties agreed that L/R would submit quarterly standardized reports to the City that include the total number of rides, the percentage of rides completed in each zip code, pick-up and drop-off zip codes, the percentage of rides requested but unfulfilled, collision data, and the number of requested rides for accessible vehicles. In response to L/R concerns regarding data confidentiality, a mediation provision stated that "'[t]he city will work to achieve the highest possible level of confidentiality for information provided within the confines of state law.'' In January 2016, appellant Jeff Kirk, a resident of Texas, submitted a PRA request to the City seeking L/R reports for the final two quarters of 2015. Specifically, Kirk sought release of records submitted by L/R to the City as required by SMC 6.310.540, including the percentage and number of rides picked up in each zip code, and the pick-up and drop-off zip codes of each ride. L/R insisted their quarterly zip code reports to the City consisted of trade secrets protected under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA). The Washington Supreme Court held those records were not categorically excluded from disclosure: applying the injunction standard set forth in RCW 42.56.540, such records may be enjoined from disclosure only if disclosure would clearly not be in the public interest, and would substantially and irreparably damage a person or a vital government interest. The superior court erred by applying the general injunction standard of Civil Rule (CR) 65, and by not adequately considering the PRA's more stringent standard. View "Lyft, Inc. v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

by
Between 1853 and 1995, the Port Gamble Bay facility in Kitsap County, Washington operated as a sawmill and forest products manufacturing facility by Pope & Talbot and its corporate predecessors. Close to four decades after Puget Mill Co., predecessor to Pope & Talbot, began operating the sawmill, the legislature authorized the disposal of certain occupied state-owned aquatic lands, including the tidal lands within Port Gamble Bay. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued the first lease for Pope & Talbot's use of the Port Gamble Bay submerged lands in 1974. In 1985, Pope & Talbot transferred 71,363 acres of its timberlands, timber, land development, and resort businesses in the State of Washington to Pope Resources, LP, which in turn leased the mill area to Pope & Talbot. Pope & Talbot ceased mill operations in 1995. Pope sought to develop their Port Gamble holdings for a large, high-density community with a marina. However, the Port Gamble site was contaminated, in part from the operation of sawmill buildings to saw logs for lumber, operation of chip barge loading facilities and a log-transfer facility, particulate sawmill emissions from wood and wood waste burning, in-water log rafting and storage, and creosote treated pilings placed throughout the bay to facilitate storage and transport of logs and wood products. After entering into a consent decree with the Washington Department of Ecology in 2013 for remediation of portions of the site exposed to hazardous substances, Pope/OPG filed a complaint in 2014 seeking a declaration that DNR was liable for natural resources damages and remedial costs, and for contribution of costs. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of DNR in 2016. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that DNR was an "owner or operator" with potential liability under the Washington Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). DNR appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding DNR was neither an "owner" nor an "operator" of the Port Gamble Bay facility for purposes of MTCA. View "Pope Res., LP v. Dep't of Nat. Res." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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