Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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This case involved a challenge to former RCW 43.43.120(23)(a) (2001), which excluded certain overtime from the calculation of the monthly pension benefit granted under the Washington State Patrol Retirement System (WSPRS). Four Washington State troopers (Troopers) hired before the statute became effective claimed this exclusion of voluntary overtime from the calculation of their monthly pensions was an unconstitutional impairment of their contract with the State in violation of article I, section 10 of the United States Constitution and article I, section 23 of the Washington State Constitution. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled: (1) the statute of limitations was three years and accrued at retirement; (2) there remained issues of material fact regarding whether the change was offset by comparable benefits; and (3) the change was reasonable and necessary to serve a legitimate public purpose. After review of that ruling, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rulings on the statute of limitations and on comparable benefits. However, the Court vacated its legitimate public purpose ruling as premature given that the issue of comparable benefits remained for trial. The matter was remanded for additional proceedings. View "Hester v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether the Washington legislature extended a privilege or immunity to religious and other nonprofit, secular employers and whether, in providing the privilege or immunity, the legislature affected a fundamental right without a reasonable basis for doing so. Lawmakers enacted Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) to protect citizens from discrimination in employment, and exempted religious nonprofits from the definition of “employer.” In enacting WLAD, the legislature created a statutory right for employees to be free from discrimination in the workplace while allowing employers to retain their constitutional right, as constrained by state and federal case law, to choose workers who reflect the employers’ beliefs when hiring ministers. Matthew Woods brought an employment discrimination action against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (SUGM). At trial, SUGM successfully moved for summary judgment pursuant to RCW 49.60.040(11)’s religious employer exemption. Woods appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, contesting the constitutionality of the statute. SUGM argued RCW 49.60.040(11)’s exemption applied to its hiring decisions because its employees were expected to minister to their clients. Under Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim must yield in a few limited circumstances, including where the employee in question was a minister. Whether ministerial responsibilities and functions discussed in Our Lady of Guadalupe were present in Woods’ case was not decided below. The Supreme Court determined RCW 49.60.040(11) was constitutional but could be constitutionally invalid as applied to Woods. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to determine whether SUGM met the ministerial exception. View "Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission" on Justia Law

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This case involved a recall petition against Thurston County, Washington, Sheriff John Snaza. Petitioner Arthur West alleged Snaza committed a recallable offense because he stated in a press release that he would not enforce an order issued by the Washington State secretary of health intended to combat the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Snaza appealed the trial court’s conclusion that the recall charge was factually and legally sufficient. The Washington Supreme Court concluded Snaza had discretion and his exercise of discretion (stating he would not criminally enforce the order) was not manifestly unreasonable. Therefore, the recall charge was neither factually nor legally sufficient, and the trial court's decision was reversed. View "In Re Recall of Snaza" on Justia Law

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The Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Board of Governors (BOG) terminated the WSBA executive director during a closed executive session. WSBA member Lincoln Beauregard sued the WSBA, alleging that the vote to fire the executive director violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). He demanded that the executive director be reinstated. The trial court held that the OPMA applied to the WSBA and granted Beauregard a preliminary injunction, but not for the requested relief of reinstating the executive director. Instead, the injunction required the WSBA to comply with the OPMA. Because the OPMA did not apply to the WSBA and because the superior court ordered relief that Beauregard never requested, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the preliminary injunction. View "Beauregard v. Wash. State Bar Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Roger Leishman, an openly gay man, began employment with the Washington Attorney General’s office (AGO) as chief legal advisor to Western Washington University in 2015. Shortly after starting work, Leishman began exhibiting serious trichotillomania, anxiety, and other symptoms he disclosed to his employer. He would later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which was also disclosed to his employer. In January 2016, Leishman learned he did not receive a raise given to other assistant attorney generals, due to complaints his supervisor made about his conduct at work. Leishman contended his supervisor’s complaints were based on homophobic beliefs. Leishman made a formal request for reasonable accommodation of his disability, which the AGO denied. Leishman drafted a discrimination complaint. In response, the supervisor denied making the comments, accused Leishman of faking his disability, and refused to support his then-pending accommodation request. The AGO retained Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC (OMW) to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s discrimination complaint and his supervisor’s allegations. The OMW report concluded Leishman did not establish discrimination against him based on sexual orientation, and his conduct during a meeting with his supervisor violated expected standards of conduct for his position. The AGO thereafter terminated Leishman’s employment effective June, 2016. Leishman filed suit against the AGO. The parties reached a settlement agreement in which Leishman agreed to release his claims against the State and its officers. However, he also sued OMW, alleging the firm was not acting as the AGO’s agent, and his claims against the OMW were not barred by the settlement. The trial court granted OMW’s motion for judgment on the pleadings; the Court of Appeal reversed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. View "Leishman v. Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Two of L.K.’s three children were Indian children for the purposes of federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). L.K. claimed the State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) removed her children without making "active efforts" to keep the family together as was required under the two laws. The Court of Appeals did not address this issue but, instead, sua sponte found that under the invited error doctrine, L.K. was precluded from raising this issue on appeal, holding that because L.K. repeatedly contended she did not need services, she could not now claim on appeal that the Department did not provide her sufficient services under ICWA and WICWA. It did not reach the issue of whether the Department provided active efforts. The Washington Supreme Court reversed appellate court's holding regarding "invited error." With respect to "active efforts," the Supreme Court found the Department did not engage in the statutorily required active efforts to prevent the breakup of an Indian family. Accordingly, the dispositional order continuing L.R.C.K.-S. and D.B.C.K.-S.’s foster care placement was vacated. The matter was remanded for immediate return of these two children to their mother, unless the trial court finds returning the children put them in “substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger.” The finding of dependency was unaffected. View "In re Dependency of A.L.K., L.R.C.K.-S., D.B.C.K.-S." on Justia Law

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Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by RCW 29A.32.090(3)(b), the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line. Espinoza sought accelerated direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Because Reykdal was a public figure, he had to show “actual malice” to succeed in a defamation suit. The Supreme Court found the superior court made no findings regarding actual malice, and thus granted Reykdal’s request in error. Because there was no likelihood that Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its application of the statute. View "Reykdal v. Espinoza" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over control of sewerage service to Point Wells, located just north of the King County, Washington border, within the boundaries of Snohomish County and Olympic View Water and Sewer District (Olympic). The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was a determination of the effect of a 1985 superior court order which purported to annex the Point Wells service area from King County to Ronald Wastewater District (Ronald). Resolution of this issue required interpretation of former Title 56 RCW (1985) and former RCW 36.94.410-.440 (1985) to determine whether the 1985 court had authority to approve the transfer and annexation. The trial court held that the 1985 Order annexed Point Wells to Ronald. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that King County could not transfer annexation rights that it did not have. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's conclusion, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ronald Wastewater Dist. v. Olympic View Water& Sewer Dist." on Justia Law

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Initiative Measure 976 (I-976) was the latest in a series of initiatives about reducing or eliminating local motor vehicle excise taxes, including taxes that have been pledged to support major transportation projects in Washington state. Authorized regional transit authorities were empowered to ask their voters to approve transportation system proposals and financing secured by local taxes and fees, including local motor vehicle excise taxes. The legislature also empowered local transportation benefit districts and other local governments to impose taxes, including motor vehicle excise taxes, and fees to fund local transportation projects and to seek voter approval for additional funding. I-976 passed statewide with about 53 percent of the vote, though it was rejected by about 53 percent of the voters in the Sound Transit region, about 60 percent of King County voters, and about 70 percent of San Juan voters, who depended heavily on ferries funded by motor vehicle excise taxes. Several counties, cities, associations and private citizens (collectively challengers) challenged I-976’s constitutionality, arguing that I-976 contained multiple subjects in violation of article II, section 19’s single subject requirement. They also argued I-976 violated section 19’s subject-in-title requirement because the ballot title falsely suggested voter-approved motor vehicle taxes would not be repealed. The challengers successfully sought a preliminary injunction in King County Superior Court to block its implementation. The trial judge initially concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the grounds that the ballot title was misleading. The Washington Supreme Court concurred I-976 contained more than one subject, and its subject was not accurately expressed in its title. Accordingly, I-976 was declared unconstitutional. View "Garfield Cty. Transp. Auth. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The "[Indian Child Welfare Act] ICWA and [Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act] WICWA were enacted to remedy the historical and persistent state-sponsored destruction of Native families and communities. . . . The acts provide specific protections for Native children in child welfare proceedings and are aimed at preserving the children’s relationships with their families, Native communities, and identities. The acts also require states to send notice to tribes so that tribes may exercise their independent rights and interests to protect their children and, in turn, the continuing existence of tribes as thriving communities for generations to come." At issue in this case was whether the trial court had “reason to know” that M.G and Z.G. were Indian children at a 72-hour shelter care hearing. The Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court had “reason to know” that a child was an Indian child when a participant in the proceeding indicates that the child has tribal heritage. "We respect that tribes determine membership exclusively, and state courts cannot establish who is or is not eligible for tribal membership on their own." The Court held that an indication of tribal heritage was sufficient to satisfy the “reason to know” standard. Here, participants in a shelter care hearing indicated that M.G. and Z.G. had tribal heritage. The trial court had “reason to know” that M.G. and Z.G. were Indian children, and it erred by failing to apply ICWA and WICWA standards to the proceeding. View "In re Dependency of Z.J.G." on Justia Law