Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Michael Weaver, a former City of Everett firefighter, contracted melanoma. He filed a temporary disability claim, which the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (Department) denied, finding the melanoma was not work related. The melanoma spread to Weaver's brain, for which he filed a permanent disability claim. The Department denied it as precluded by the denial of the temporary disability claim. The issue his case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata properly precluded Weaver's permanent disability claim. The Court found collateral estoppel did not apply because the doctrine would work an injustice in this situation, given that Weaver did not have sufficient incentive to fully and vigorously litigate the temporary disability claim in light of the disparity of relief between the two claims. Likewise, the Court held that res judicata did not apply because the two claims did not share identical subject matter, given that the permanent disability claim did not exist at the time of the temporary disability claim. View "Weaver v. City of Everett" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ron Gipson challenged Snohomish County’s response to a records request under Washington’s Public Records Act. Gipson requested records that related to allegations of workplace sexual harassment against him. At the time of his request, Gipson was under investigation for those allegations. Due to the voluminous request, Snohomish County responded by producing the documents in five installments over the course of several months, but asserted the active and ongoing investigation exemption under the Act for each installment. Gipson argued treating each installment with the exemption was improper under the Act. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding Snohomish County properly applied the active-and-ongoing-investigation exemption and affirmed. View "Gipson v. Snohomish County" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Petitioner Randall Hoffman submitted a public records request to the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office seeking police reports referencing an individual, Erin Schnebly. The clerk at the sheriff’s office did not locate any photos or videos, though the office’s electronic case management system indicted there were 95 photographs and 2 videos related to responsive reports. The clerk, telephoning Hoffman for clarification, stated she could not find any involvement by Hoffman in the incidents, and had not found any photos or videos. Based on an erroneous interpretation of RCW 42.56.050 which the parties agreed was indeed, erroneous, the clerk told Hoffman that because he was not a party involved in the reports, she could not release a majority of the documents found. Hoffman sued respondents Kittitas County and the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office (hereinafter collectively County), alleging that the clerk’s initial response violated the Public Records Act. Hoffman argued the trial court's finding that the agency respondents lacked bad faith was reviewable de novo. But the Washington Supreme Court reviewed for abuse of discretion when imposing a penalty pursuant to the PRA, in line with the prevailing case law. The Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a $15,498 penalty. View "Hoffman v. Kittitas County" on Justia Law

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This case concerned whether the city of Tacoma (City) could be held liable for damages for imposing an unlawful condition on a building permit. The Church of the Divine submitted an application to the City to build a parsonage on property it owned. A single-family residence had previously been located on the property, but it had been demolished in 2012. City staff reviewed the permit application and placed a number of conditions on it, including, at issue here, a requirement that the Church dedicate a 30-foot-wide strip of land for right-of-way improvements to a street abutting the property. While the existing street was generally 60 feet wide in other areas, it was 30 feet wide next to the Church's property. This lack of uniformity had existed for around 100 years. The Church challenged the permit conditions, and the City eventually removed most of them but kept the requirement for a dedication. The Church appealed the decision to the City's hearing examiner, and the hearing examiner granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The Church appealed under the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), in which it challenged the hearing examiner's decision and also sought damages under RCW 64.40.020. In addressing the propriety of the dedication, the court confined its review to the administrative record that had been before the hearing examiner and acknowledged that, in that record, the stated purpose by the City for imposing the dedication requirement was to create a uniform street. The court held that this reason was insufficient to justify the requirement and reversed the hearing examiner, invalidating the condition. A trial court denied the Church’s request for damages and the Church appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Washington Supreme Court revered however, finding that the City's subjective belief that the dedication was lawful did not determine what it objectively should reasonably have known. The Court of Appeals erred in reasoning otherwise. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "Church of the Divine Earth v. City of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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Two Tonasket voters petitioned to recall City Council member Jill Ritter from office. The petition made six allegations relating to improper influence over a police investigation of a relative’s son, improperly reviewing police personnel records, certain public statements made about Tonasket police, and conspiracy to disband the police force. The superior court determined all allegations were insufficient to warrant a recall election; finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that decision. View "In re Recall of Ritter" on Justia Law

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Two Tonasket voters petitioned to recall City Council member Christia “Teagan” Levine from office. The petition alleged Levin committed five violations relating to certain city personnel actions, conspiracy to remove the City Attorney and cause the Mayor to resign as part of an illegal quorum, withholding public records, and conspiring to disband the city police force. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed all charges, finding them factually and legally insufficient to sustain further action. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Recall of Levine" on Justia Law

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A recall petition was filed against the Mayor and three Cathlamet council members; charges stemmed from Cathlamet’s purchase of a parcel of property at 20 Butler street. The petition alleged a violation of the Washington Constitution as a gift of public funds to the seller of the Butler Street property, Bernadette Goodroe. One additional charge against one town counselor alleged violation of RCW 42.23.070(2), prohibiting municipal officials from giving or receiving gifts related to their official capacities. The Washington Supreme Court determined the charges in the recall petition was legally insufficient, because acquisition of real property is a fundamental government purpose and discretionary act that was not manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "In re Recall of Burnham" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Freedom Foundation filed a public records request for documents relating to union organizing by several University of Washington (UW) faculty members. The UW asked one of the faculty to search his e-mail accounts for responsive records, and after reviewing those records, gave notice that it intended to release many of them in the absence of an injunction. Respondent Service Employees International Union 925 sued to enjoin release of any union-related records, arguing they were not "public records" under 42.56 RCW, the Washington Public Records Act. The trial court granted the injunction and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Foundation petitioned the Washington Supreme Court for review, arguing that the "scope of employment test" employed by the trial court and affirmed on appeal, only applied to records stored on an employee's personal device, and should not have been extended to records on public agencies' e-mail servers. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Local 925 v. Univ. of Wash." on Justia Law

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Franklin County Washington was an early adopter of an electronic filing system for superior court cases. The county clerk and the superior court judges largely cooperated with the transition to "Odyssey" and anticipated that court files would be paperless by 2018. To facilitate this transition, the clerk gave the superior court judges wireless access devices and expressed his willingness to accommodate other requests. Shortly after the clerk's transition to a paperless file system was fully implemented, the superior court judges of Franklin County directed the Franklin County clerk to continue making and maintaining paper files. The clerk declined to do so as his budget was insufficient to allow him to maintain duplicate paper files. The clerk also deemed it unnecessary to maintain duplicate paper files once Odyssey had been implemented. Declaring an emergency, the judges adopted a local rule requiting the clerk to maintain paper files for all file types. When the Franklin County Clerk continued to resist creating duplicate paper files, the judges threatened legal action. The Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney appointed a special deputy prosecuting attorney pursuant to RCW 36.27.040 to represent the clerk with respect to any contempt or other legal action the judges threatened to pursue. The issue presented to the Washington Supreme Court was whether the judges validly issued an order of appointment under RCW 36.27.030, securing their own special deputy prosecuting attorney to pursue their legal action against the clerk. The Supreme Court determined the judges' appointment order was invalid: "while the judges are free to sue the clerk, they must do it at their own expense." View "In re Appointment of Special Deputy Prosecuting Attorney" on Justia Law

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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