Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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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

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In 2018, the Washington legislature enacted Substitute House Bill 2887 (SHB 2887), requiring noncharter counties with populations of 400,000 or more to elect five county commissioners by 2022, when originally such counties were required to elect three. SHB 2887 would also require affected counties to fund a redistricting committee to create five districts, one for each commissioner. These counties had to hold individual district elections for these commissioners instead of countywide general elections. Spokane County, former and current Spokane County commissioners, and the Washington State Association of Counties argued this law violated article XI, section 4 of the Washington Constitution, mandating the legislature to establish a uniform system of county government, and article XI, section 5, requiring the legislature to provide for the election of county commissioners through general and uniform laws. The Washington Supreme Court held SHB 2887 was constitutional under article XI, sections 4 and 5: "the legislature may classify counties by population for any purpose that does not violate other constitutional provisions, and SHB 2887 is a general law that properly implements district-only elections for noncharter counties of a certain size." View "Spokane County v. Washington" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families (Department) moved to terminate J.J.'s parental rights to her three children. After closing arguments, the trial court orally ruled that the Department had not met its burden to prove by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that the Department had offered all necessary services or that there was no reasonable likelihood of J.J. correcting her parental deficiencies in the near future. But instead of dismissing the termination petition, the trial court continued the trial without entering any findings of fact or conclusions of law. Two months later, the trial court heard more evidence and then terminated J.J.’s parental rights to all three of her children. J.J. appealed, arguing that the trial court violated her right to due process when it continued the trial after finding that the Department had not met its burden of proof. The Court of Appeals affirmed the termination. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and dismissed the termination petition, holding the trial court indeed violated J.J.’s right to due process when it continued the trial after finding the Department had not met its burden of proof. View "In re Welfare of D.E." on Justia Law

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The Spokane River originates at the outlet of Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho and flows west for approximately 111 miles to the Columbia River in eastern Washington. Flows in the river have been declining due to increased groundwater use from the aquifer. The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) ceased issuing new groundwater rights from the aquifer in the 1990s. Avista Corporation operated five hydroelectric projects located on the Spokane River in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. The uppermost project on the river, the Post Falls development, consisted of three dams on three channels with natural islands connecting the structures. The development impounded nine miles of the Spokane River to the outlet of Coeur d’Alene Lake. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on Ecology's authority to set minimum instream flows for the rivers and streams in Washington, and the parameters of that authority under RCW 90.22.010 and RCW 90.54.020(3)(a). At issue was whether Ecology properly adopted a rule, WAC 173-557-050, setting a summertime minimum instream flow rate for the Spokane River at 850 cfs (cubic feet per second) from June 16 to September 30. The Supreme Court upheld that rule, determining that the Agency's challengers failed to carry their burden to show the rule’s invalidity. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision, which reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the challengers’ suit. View "Ctr. for Envtl. Law & Policy v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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This matter came before the Washington Supreme Court on a petition for a writ of mandamus from five inmates serving criminal sentences at different Washington Department of Corrections (Department) facilities. The Supreme Court retained jurisdiction because of the extraordinary nature of the relief petitioners sought, and because of the extraordinary danger COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) posed to inmates in Washington’s prisons. Rather, the parties agreed on a record that mainly included descriptions of the prison conditions, expert opinions on the risks that COVID-19 presented in the prison environment, and petitioners’ declarations as to their individual situations. For purposes of the Court's decision, it accepted petitioners’ factual descriptions as true. The petitioners claimed close confinement created a substantial risk of harm because of the current public health emergency caused by COVID-19. "These concerns are legitimate and well founded:" the current widely reported medical evidence suggested COVID-19 risks of serious complications or death are highest for offenders over age 50 and those with certain preexisting medical conditions, but it could also be serious for younger people and those in good health. And serious outbreaks have occurred at other prisons and jails nationwide. "But mandamus is not the answer for every emergency, and it cannot deliver the relief petitioners seek here." The Washington Supreme Court concluded that without a showing an official in the executive branch failed to perform a mandatory nondiscretionary duty, courts had no authority under law to issue a writ of mandamus, no matter how dire the emergency. Petitioners alternatively sought leave to amend their petition by filing a personal restraint petition. But on the record before the Court, they did not show respondents acted with deliberate indifference to the extreme risk that COVID-19 created for the incarcerated. "Amending their mandamus petition would therefore be futile." For these reasons, the Supreme Court dismissed the mandamus action and denied the motion to amend. View "Colvin v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff class in this case sued the State of Washington and the Office of Public Defense (OPD), alleging ongoing violations of the right to counsel in Grays Harbor County Juvenile Court. They premised state liability not only on alleged systemic, structural deficiencies in the state system, but also on the State and OPD’s alleged knowledge of Grays Harbor County’s specific failures to safeguard the constitutional right to counsel. The Washington Supreme Court determined that while the State bears responsibility to enact a statutory scheme under which local governments can adequately fund and administer a system of indigent public defense, it was not directly answerable for aggregated claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Rather, to prevail on their claims against the State, the plaintiff class had to show that the current statutory scheme systemically failed to provide local governments, across Washington, with the authority and means necessary to furnish constitutionally adequate indigent public defense services. Given that standard, the Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs’ claims premised on the State and OPD’s alleged knowledge or awareness of Grays Harbor County’s failure to provide adequate public defense services. “Such an allegation cannot support state liability even if we could fairly impute knowledge or awareness or awareness of a particular county’s failings to the State. Plaintiffs’ claims alleging systemic, structural deficiencies in the public defense system remained viable. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s denial of the State’s motion for summary judgment in part, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Davison v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court in connection with the meaning of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW. The federal trial court asked: (1) whether a school district was subject to strict liability for discrimination by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and (2) if yes, then did "discrimination," for the purposes of this cause of action, encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault? Gary Shafer was hired by the Olympia School District in 2005 as a school bus driver. It was undisputed that Shafer, during his employment, abused passengers on school buses, including P.H. and S.A., the minor plaintiffs in this case. Plaintiffs sued the school district in federal court, naming multiple defendants, and claiming both state and federal causes of action. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which was granted in part and denied in part. In response to the Washington Supreme Court's decision in Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative, 434 P.3d 39 (2019), plaintiffs successfully moved to amend their complaint to include a claim under the WLAD. The amended complaint alleges that the minor plaintiffs’ treatment constituted sex discrimination in a place of public accommodation. The Supreme Court answered "yes" to both certified questions: a school district may be subject to strict liability for discrimination in places of public accommodation by its employees in violation of the WLAD; and under the WLAD, discrimination can encompass intentional sexual misconduct, including physical abuse and assault. View "W.H. v. Olympia School Dist." on Justia Law

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The city of Federal Way (City) is a noncharter code city incorporated under Title 35A RCW. To address a budget deficit, the City identified and implemented cost-saving measures, but the spending cuts did not close the deficit. The City thus considered several potential sources of new revenue, including levying an excise tax on water and sewer utilities. The council found it necessary to expand the kinds of excises levied in order to pay for basic municipal services and to meet the budget deficit. In passing the ordinance, the council relied on RCW 35A.82.020, which it concluded gave the City broad authority to impose excises for regulation or revenue regarding all places and kinds of businesses. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review reduced to a decision on a municipal corporation's authority to impose an excise tax on another municipal corporation doing business within its borders. Several water-sewer districts petitioned for declaratory judgment, arguing the City lacked express legislative authority to impose the tax on them. The districts also raised a governmental immunity defense, and further challenged the ordinance on constitutional grounds, arguing it violated both due process vagueness principles and privileges and immunities antifavoritism principles. The parties cross moved for summary judgment, and the superior court granted summary judgment in the City’s favor. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed, finding the legislature granted code cities broad authority to levy excises on all places and kinds of business. "That policy prescription contemplates code cities may choose to exercise their local taxing power by imposing excises for regulation or revenue on the business of providing water-sewer services to ratepayers. We hold the governmental immunity doctrine does not bar the city from taxing the districts because they perform a proprietary function when they engage in this business. As for the districts’ constitutional claims, they lack standing to bring such claims." View "Lakehaven Water & Sewer Dist. v. City of Federal Way" on Justia Law

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The issue case raised centered whether the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (Department) fulfilled its statutory obligation under RCW 13.34.180(1)(d) to provide a mother necessary services before terminating her parental rights. B.B., the mother of D.H., S.T., L.L., and T.L., had her parental rights terminated after a nearly three-year long dependency. B.B. contended that the Department failed to provide her timely dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and neuropsychological services and that the parenting education services she received were not properly tailored to her mental health needs. A Court of Appeals commissioner affirmed the termination, finding that the Department provided and properly tailored all necessary services to B.B. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed, finding substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that all necessary and ordered services were offered or provided. View "In re Parental Rights to D.H." on Justia Law