Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
by
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court centered on whether a superior court could conduct preliminary appearance hearings for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors originally filed in district court. Because Washington court rules authorized the superior court to conduct these hearings regardless of which court files these misdemeanors, and because there are no statutory or constitutional restrictions on this authority, the Supreme Court held a superior court could conduct preliminary appearance hearings for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors that were originally filed in district court. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' judgment and remanded the case to the Stevens County Superior Court to issue a writ of mandamus against the Stevens County District Court to accept and file cases from the superior court. View "Washington v. Stevens County Dist. Court Judge" on Justia Law

by
In 2015, Edward Kilduff filed a two-part Public Records Act ("PRA") request stemming from a wetlands classification dispute a subsequent investigation into improper government action ("IGA"). The public records clerk acknowledged the request and indicated a response would follow "within the next 5-10 business days." A San Juan County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney called Kilduff to discuss his records request. The attorney had previously directed a code enforcement officer to segregate the IGA file from the code enforcement file, and according to the attorney, Kilduff agreed to accept the final redacted IGA report in lieu of his records request. Kilduff disputed he agreed to limit his request, and claims he never received anything in writing memorializing the alleged modification of his request. Forty-five pages of documents responsive to the request were produced, as was an emailed copy of the redacted IGA report. No exemption log was included that would indicated any additional responsive records existed but were withheld. Thereafter, Kilduff sued San Juan County, alleging it violated the PRA by failing to conduct a reasonable search for responsive records, and silently withholding records without an exemption. The county denied the allegations and raised the affirmative defense that Kilduff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court ultimately ruled in the County's favor, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed. "[T]he people 'do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them' or 'give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not for them to know.'" The Court determined nothing in the PRA gave local governments the right to create another layer of administrative review or to require administrative exhaustion before the public may seek judicial review. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of Kilduff's PRA claim and held public records requesters were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a PRA lawsuit. Furthermore, although Kilduff lacked standing to bring an ouster claim, the trial court abused its discretion when it imposed fees and sanctions. View "Kilduff v. San Juan County" on Justia Law

by
King County, Washington enacted a first-of-its-kind ordinance that required electric, gas, water and sewer utilities to pay for the right to use the county's rights-of-way (franchise). The associated planned charge was called "franchise compensation," and was based on an estimate of a franchise's value. If the county and utility couldn't agree on an amount, the county barred the utility from using its rights-of-way. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the County's authority to collect franchise compensation. Secondarily, the issue was whether water-sewer districts or private utilities could use the rights-of-way without a franchise from the County. The superior court ruled King County lacked authority to collect franchise compensation. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that generally, King County could collect franchise compensation. Water-sewer districts and private utilities had no general right to use King County's rights-of-way without a franchise. View "King County v. King County Water Dists." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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