Zombie Horizontal Stare Decisis in the Washington Court of Appeals

If you read this blog, you know that the Washington State Supreme Court recently rejected horizontal stare decisis among the Divisions of the Court of Appeals. They were pretty clear about it:

We reject any kind of “horizontal stare decisis” between or among the divisions of the Court of Appeals.

In re Arnold, 410 P.3d 1133, 1139 (Wash. 2018). Any kind! That’s pretty vehement.

When the Court issued Arnold, I was a bit confused. The Supreme Court seemed concerned that a Division should not feel “bound” by another Division. But the Court of Appeals in Arnold never said it was bound. Instead, it was just following its sister Division for prudential reasons.

Which brings us to today’s Court of Appeals decision from Division 1 in State v. Sullivan. The Sullivan court does not cite Arnold, but it does rely on precedent from another Division. Here’s the Court of Appeals rejecting one of the appellant’s arguments:

Sullivan offers no evidence that the jury failed to deliberate as a whole. Instead, Sullivan’s argument relies entirely on speculation, arguing “it is safe to assume one or more jurors left the jury room. . . , if, for no other reason than to use a bathroom” during the two hours of deliberations. “[S]peculation that a juror may have left the jury room during deliberations . . . is insufficient to warrant review under RAP 2.5(a)(3).” State v. St. Peter, 1 Wn. App. 2d 961, 963, 408 P.3d 361 (2018).[n2]

And here’s the problem. The Sullivan court relies on St. Peter and only St. Peter for this point of law. But St. Peter is not a Supreme Court case. It’s not even a case from Division 1 of the Court of Appeals. Instead, St. Peter was decided by Division 3.

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