Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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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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Broadly speaking, Seattle's First-In-Time ("FIT") rule requires Seattle landlords when seeking to fill vacant tenancies to provide notice of rental criteria, screen all completed applications in chronological order, and to offer the tenancy to the first qualified applicant (subject to certain exceptions). Plaintiffs were Seattle landlords who claimed the FIT rule facially violated their state constitutional rights. The trial court ruled the FIT rule was unconstitutional on its face because: (1) the rule facially effected a per se regulatory taking for private use; (2) the rule facially infringed on plaintiffs' substantive due process rights; and (3) the rule facially infringed plaintiffs' free speech rights. The Washington Supreme Court determined the FIT rule was constitutional, "[t]he FIT rule is unquestionably an experiment." The Court adopted the definition of regulatory takings set forth in Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A., 544 U.S. 528 (2005) for the purposes of Washington Constitution article I, section 16, and held plaintiffs did not meet their burden of showing the FIT rule facially met this definition. The Court also clarified the rational basis review applied in substantive due process challenges to laws regulating the use of property, and held plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proving the FIT rule failed rational basis review on its face. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that on its face, the FIT rule required only factual disclosures, and the City met its burden of showing the rule survived deferential scrutiny. View "Yim v. Seattle" 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

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In May 2013, a clear and sunny day, William Scott, a driver for Mullen Trucking 2005 Ltd., was transporting an oversize load on Interstate 5 from Canada to Vancouver, Washington. Scott's truck had a pilot vehicle driven by Tammy Detray. Along the route was the Skagit River Bridge. As they entered and crossed the bridge in the right lane, Detray was distracted, talking to her husband on a handsfree cell phone device. Affixed to the right front of Detray's pickup was a 16-foot 2-inch tall clearance pole. Detray stated she did not strike the bridge with the pole, but this was contradicted by at least one witness who said the clearance pole hit the bridge four or five times. Detray was only 4.12 seconds and approximately 300 feet ahead of Scott. As Scott neared the bridge, he noticed a truck behind him quickly approaching. About a half mile before they entered the bridge, the approaching truck, owned by codefendant Motorways Transport Ltd. and driven by Amandeep Sidhu, was "virtually beside" Scott on his left, confining Scott to the right side of the bridge. Scott's oversize load struck the lower right curvature portion of 11 sway braces. By striking the trusses, Scott caused the north bridge section to collapse into the river. The State sued Mullen Trucking and Motorways Transport for negligence. The trucking companies counterclaimed, claiming the State was also negligent. The trucking companies conceded the State could not be held liable, but they sought to allocate fault to the State under Washington’s comparative fault statute to offset any damage award that may be entered against them. The Washington Supreme Court was asked to decide whether fault may be allocated to the State under the comparative fault statute when the maximum height statute stated "no liability may attach" to the State under these circumstances. The Court determined no fault could be allocated to the State and affirmed. View "Dep't of Transp. v. Mullen Trucking 2005, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Freedom Foundation sent Public Records Act (PRA) requests to several state agencies seeking disclosure of records for union-represented employees, including their full names, associated birth dates, and agency work email addresses. The agencies determined that all of the requested records were disclosable and, absent a court order, they intended to release the requested records. Several unions moved courts for preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent disclosure of the requested records. While a temporary injunction was granted as to most of the requested records, ultimately a permanent injunction was rejected. This case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review the issue of whether state employees had a protected privacy interest against disclosure of public records containing their birth dates associated with their names. The Supreme Court concluded the PRA did not exempt these records from disclosure, nor did the Washington Constitution, given that names and birth dates were widely available in the public domain. View "Wash. Pub. Emps. Ass'n v. Wash. State Ctr. for Childhood Deafness & Hearing Loss" on Justia Law

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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