In Newlon v. Alexander (Division 3, March 15, 2012), the Court of Appeals reviewed a Superior Court’s decision resolving a dispute between two divorced parents regarding the burial of their child’s remains. The petitioner argued that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to resolve the dispute because Washington law vests county coroners with “jurisdiction” over the remains of certain deceased persons.
The Court of Appeals, while recognizing the grant of jurisdiction to county coroners, rejected the petitioner’s argument. The Court explained:
[Petitioner’s] argument is premised on the proposition that the legislature must, or at least may, grant jurisdiction to the courts. He is mistaken. This is state court not federal court.
. . . . The state constitution specifically vests superior courts with jurisdiction in cases in equity, cases of divorce, and in “all cases and of all proceedings in which jurisdiction shall not have been by law vested exclusively in some other court.”
(citations omitted) (emphasis added). The upshot of this “constitutional framework” is to “ensure that ‘subject matter jurisdiction . . . cannot be whittled away by statues.'”
Because the county coroner is not “some other court” and because the legislature did not vest it with exclusive jurisdiction, the Superior Court retained subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute. The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment.