Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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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

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Seattle voters approved the "Democracy Voucher Program," intending to increase civic engagement. Recipients could give their vouchers to qualified municipal candidates, who could redeem those vouchers for campaign purposes. The city would find the program through property taxes. Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon sued, arguing the taxes funding the program was unconstitutional. Because the program did not violate the First Amendment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Elster v. City Of Seattle" on Justia Law

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The Yakima County clerk was ordered by a superior court judge to procure a supplemental bond to maintain her elected office. The court warned that failure to comply would result in the court declaring the office vacant. The clerk sought a writ of prohibition from the Washington Supreme Court to prevent enforcement of the superior court's order. The Supreme Court denied the writ: the superior court judge did not exceed the court's jurisdiction by issuing the supplemental bond order; the clerk could have availed herself of "a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law - an injunction. Thus, prohibition will not lie." View "Riddle v. Elofson" on Justia Law

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In Washington State, cities, towns, and counties are empowered to enact criminal codes, employ law enforcement officers, and operate jails. Currently, cities, towns, and counties were "responsible for the prosecution, adjudication, sentencing, and incarceration of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses committed by adults in their respective jurisdictions, and referred from their respective law enforcement agencies." They can carry out these responsibilities directly, through their own courts, law enforcement agencies, and jails, or through agreements with other jurisdictions. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether, in the absence of a prior interlocal agreement, a county was entitled to seek reimbursement from cities for the cost of medical services provided to jail inmates who were (1) arrested by city officers and (2) held in the county jail on felony charges. The Court concluded it was not. View "Thurston County v. City of Olympia" on Justia Law

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This case centered on contempt sanctions imposed against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) for failing to timely complete competency evaluations for criminal defendants. Specifically, the issue reduced to whether the State waived its sovereign immunity under RCW 7.21.030 to the imposition of interest concerning imposed contempt sanctions. The Washington Supreme Court found no waiver under this statute's plain language or in the context presented. The Court also determined whether remedial sanctions ran from the date of the trial court's oral ruling imposing the sanctions or the filing of the written sanction order, holding the oral ruling determining contempt and imposing sanctions triggered the running of the contempt sanctions. View "Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs. v. Sims" on Justia Law

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In 1998, petitioner Christal Fields pled guilty to attempted second degree robbery for trying to snatch a woman's purse. As a result, Fields was permanently disqualified from working at any licensed childcare facility in Washington pursuant to Department of Early Learning (DEL) regulations. At issue in this case was the extent to which a criminal record could preclude a person from supporting herself through lawful employment in her chosen field. The Washington Supreme Court held DEL's regulations prohibiting any individualized consideration of Fields' qualifications at the administrative level violated her federal right to due process as applied. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for further administrative proceedings. View "Fields v. Dep't of Early Learning" on Justia Law