Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court concerning premises liability. Shannon Adamson, an employee of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), fell approximately 15 feet when the passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham's (Port) Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) collapsed. The accident caused severe, life-changing injuries. The State of Alaska leased the BCT from the Port, allowing ferries to dock at the BCT and load and unload passengers and their vehicles. The Port elected to not implement an interlock device; when Adamson was operating the passenger ramp, slack was created in some attached cables. When she removed the locking pins, the ramp collapsed, snapped the cables, and Adamson and the ramp fell approximately 15 feet until the ramp caught on the ferry. Adamson and her husband sued the Port in federal court, alleging negligence and seeking damages for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. The federal court determined Adamson was the Port's business invitee; the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adamson and awarded over $16 million in damages. The court found the Port under three separate theories of liability: duty to a business invitee, duty as a landlord, and a promise to perform repairs under the lease contract. The issue presented to the Washington Supreme Court centered on whether a property owner-landlord was liable for injuries that occur on its property when the lessee has exclusive possession at the time of the accident but only priority use under the lease and the landlord has contracted to maintain and repair the premises. The Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and consequently, did not address the second question. View "Adamson v. Port of Bellingham" on Justia Law

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The City of Olympia, Washington contracted with NOVA Contracting, Inc. to replace a deteriorating culvert. The contract contained a "notice of protest" provision, which was taken from the Washington Department of Transportation's "standard Specifications for Road, Bridge, and Municipal Construction (2012) manual. NOVA sued the City for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; the City moved to dismiss based in part on NOVA's filature to file a protest first before taking the City to court. The trial court dismissed NOVA's claim, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Washington Supreme Court has addressed this written notice issue twice before; the Court of Appeals interpreted those holdings, however, as only applying to claims for cost of work performed and not claims for expectancy and consequential damages. The Supreme Court held the two prior cases applied even to claims of expectancy and consequential damages. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "NOVA Contracting, Inc. v. City of Olympia" on Justia Law

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Robbin Taylor filed a statement of charges seeking recall of Black Diamond City council member Patricia Pepper. In November 2015, Pepper defeated opponent Ron Taylor (husband of Robbin Taylor) in an election for Black Diamond City Council in King County. Beginning in January 2016, a chasm developed with Mayor Carol Benson and council members Tamie Deady and Janie Edelman on one side, and a majority of the city council - Pepper, Erika Morgan, and Brian Weber - on the other. After Pepper, Morgan, and Weber passed R-1069, they voted to fire city attorney Carol Morris. Upon passing R-1069, Pepper and a majority of the council made decisions to alter contracts regarding the Master Development Review Team (MDRT) contracts for two large development projects planned in Black Diamond that had been approved by Mayor Benson and former council members. Mayor Benson hired emergency interim city attorney Yvonne Ward. Ward submitted two memoranda to the council, concluding that R-1069 violated the Black Diamond Municipal Code (BDMC) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), chapter 42.30 RCW. The council had also received advice from prior city attorney Morris and from the city's risk management pool that the resolution could create liability for the city if council members violated the OPMA. Ultimately, the council's decision to enact R-1069 and revisit the MDRT contracts, among other actions, led to a lawsuit: MDRT contractor CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC (Oakpointe) filed suit against the city and council members Pepper, Morgan, and Weber, alleging violations of the OPMA, which has led to litigation and costs for the city. Pepper was a member of council standing committees; allegations were made that Pepper, Morgan, and Weber held secret council and standing committee meetings conducting city business in violation of the OPMA. After approximately a year and a half of tensions, Taylor filed a statement of charges with the King County Elections Division, requesting Pepper's recall. The superior court ruled that four of those charges were factually and legally sufficient to support a recall petition. Pepper appealed. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision with regard to the first three charges, but reversed with regard to the fourth charge. View "In re Recall of Pepper" on Justia Law

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Kung Da Chang entered into a credit facility arrangement with Shanghai Commercial Bank (SCB) between March and April 2008 by executing five agreements. Together, these five agreements enabled Chang and his father, Clark Chang, to borrow large sums from SCB, and those sums make up the underlying debt obligation at issue in this lawsuit. These five documents defined Chang and SCB's agreement and governed their obligations. The parties' agreement explicitly included a choice of law provision selecting Hong Kong law as the governing law. SCB delivered the agreement papers for Chang's signature to an address in Shanghai that was actually Clark's residence. Clark sent the documents to his son in Seattle. Chang signed the documents, returned them to his father in Shanghai, and Clark forwarded them to SCB in Hong Kong. There was no indication that SCB knew that it was dealing with a person residing in Seattle. Chang ultimately defaulted on the debt obligation, and the parties litigated the matter in Hong Kong. SCB prevailed and secured a $9 million judgment. The Hong Kong judgment encompassed what Washington State considered Chang and his wife's marital community; Hong Kong law exempted solely separate property of a spouse, not community property, from judgments entered against one spouse. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether the Hong Kong judgment as enforceable against marital community property in Washington State. Specifically, the issue was whether the choice-of-law provision in the contracts along with application of the "most significant relationship" test for determining conflict of law issues, and ultimately, whether Hong Kong law should be applied to reach the community assets in Washington to satisfy the valid and enforceable foreign judgment. The Washington Supreme Court determined that under the facts of this case, the debtor's community property could be reached to satisfy the Hong Kong judgment. View "Shanghai Commercial Bank, Ltd. v. Kung Da Chang" on Justia Law

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This case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review an award of attorney fees against five surety companies following a jury trial for breach of contract in a public works project. The parties litigated the issue of whether three construction firms had defaulted on a contract, thus triggering coverage under a performance bond issued by the surety companies. At issue was whether the existence of a statutory fee provision barred equitable remedies available at common law for coverage disputes and whether the trial court correctly determined that segregation between covered and uncovered fees was impossible. The Court of Appeals affirmed the award of Olympic Steamship fees and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the fees could not be segregated. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "King County v. Vinci Constr. Grands Projets" on Justia Law

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In 2007, the legislature passed, and the voters ratified, the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA), RCW 48.30.015. IFCA gave insureds a new cause of action against insurers who unreasonably deny coverage or benefits. IFCA also directed courts to grant attorney fees and authorizes courts to award triple damages if the insurer either acts unreasonably or violates certain insurance regulations. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether IFCA also created a new and independent private cause of action for violation of these regulations in the absence of any unreasonable denial of coverage or benefits. The Court concluded it did not and affirmed. View "Perez-Crisantos v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court: "Does a title company owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments?" This certified question arose out of a civil action for money damages. Plaintiffs Centurion Properties Ill LLC (CP Ill) and SMI Group XIV LLC (collectively Plaintiffs) asserted that defendant Chicago Title Insurance Company negligently breached its duty of care and caused damages when it recorded unauthorized liens on CP Ill's property. The Washington Supreme Court answered the Ninth Circuit's question "no," holding that title companies did not owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments. "Such a duty is contrary to Washington's policy and precedent, and other duty of care considerations." View "Centurion Props. III, LLC v. Chi. Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Kut Suen and May Far Lui (the Luis) owned a building that sustained water damage after a pipe burst while the building was vacant. The Luis' insurance policy for the building limited coverage for water damage based on vacancy: coverage was suspended if the building remained vacant for 60 consecutive days and, effective at the beginning of any vacancy, and there was no coverage for certain specified losses, including water damage. The Luis argued that the policy was ambiguous and should have been interpreted in the Luis' favor to mean that the exclusion of coverage for water damage would commence only after a 60-day vacancy. The Washington Supreme Court rejected the Luis' arguments and found that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage for water damage immediately upon vacancy. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's contrary holding and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Lui v. Essex Insur. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2012, plaintiff Heidi Kroeber was shot outside the Bad Monkey Bar in Kent, Washington by Matthew Atkinson, who was driving an uninsured truck belonging to a friend at the time he opened fire. Plaintiff and her boyfriend had antagonized Atkinson earlier that evening. After pleading guilty to the crime of "Drive-By Shooting," Atkinson claimed that he had not intended to injure anyone and later claimed that he did not know that he was shooting where people were standing. There were factual disputes concerning whether Atkinson's truck was stopped or in motion at the time that he opened fire, and whether he accelerated rapidly away from the scene after the shooting. Plaintiff filed a claim with defendant, GEICO Insurance Company, to recover damages under the UIM coverage provision of her own automobile insurance policy. Under the relevant parts of this policy, GEICO was liable for "damages an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle due to: 1. bodily injury sustained by that insured and caused by an accident; and 2. the liability of the owner or operator for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the underinsured motor vehicle." GEICO denied plaintiffs claim, asserting that her injuries did not arise out of the use of Atkinson's truck. Plaintiff sued GEICO, claiming that she was entitled to UIM coverage. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, and that court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court: (1) whether an injury to an insured pedestrian "arose out of" the intentional firing of a gun from an uninsured pickup truck; and (2) whether it is material if the shooter intended to harm anyone when firing the gun. The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question by holding that an injury "arises out of' vehicle use so long as some causal connection is present between a condition of, an attachment to, or some aspect of a vehicle and the resulting injury. "The converse is also true-·-an injury does not 'arise out of' vehicle use under circumstances where no such causal connection exists, making the vehicle the mere situs of the accident." The Court answered the second question in the negative. View "Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Expedia (and several other hotel booking websites, collectively, "Petitioners") has been subject to approximately 80 underlying lawsuits by states, counties, and municipalities (collectively, taxing authorities) for purportedly failing to collect the right amount of local occupancy taxes from its hotel customers. Expedia tendered most of the suits to its insurer, Zurich, although some were tendered late. Zurich refused to defend Expedia on a number of grounds, including late tender and that the underlying suits may be excluded from the policies' coverage. The trial court declined to make a determination of Zurich's duty to defend Expedia, instead ordering discovery that Expedia claimed was prejudicial to the underlying actions. Petitioners sought adjudication of their summary judgment motion concerning their respective insurers' duty to defend them in cases brought by local taxing authorities. They further requested a stay of discovery in the coverage action that could prejudice them in the underlying litigation. Upon review of the matter, the Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court erred by delaying adjudication of Zurich's duty to defend Expedia. Accordingly, the Court vacated the trial court's order. The case was remanded to the trial court to determine Zurich's duty to defend Expedia in each of the 54 underlying cases subject to Expedia's motion. The trial court was furthermore ordered to stay discovery in the coverage action until it could make a factual determination as to which parts of discovery are potentially prejudicial to Expedia in the underlying actions. View "Expedia, Inc. v. Steadfast Ins. Co." on Justia Law