Washington Court of Appeals to Supreme Court: Bring It On!

On Monday the Supreme Court issued Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. v. Howard, a bit of a smack down to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The short version: Two parties had a contract dispute, the contract had a mandatory arbitration clause, one party said the entire contract was unenforceable, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court held–despite Supreme Court precedent to the contrary–that the Oklahoma courts had the power to determine the enforceability of the contract regardless of the arbitration clause.

As Brian Rogers explained: “The Supreme Court was not impressed.”

McKayla Maroney after hearing the Oklahoma Supreme Court disregarded the FAA

Why? Well, because according to the Court “[t]he Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision disregards this Court’s precedents on the FAA.” Continue reading

Advertisements

Daily Decisions: Division 1 Limits Bases for Attorneys’ Fee Awards

Dallas and Marylou Bunney wanted to build a new home. Unfortunately for them, their plans called for a home that exceeded the height limit set by their homeowners associations (“HOAs”). But hey, you only live once. So the Bunneys figured, whatever, you only live once. They built the thing anyway.

The HOAs sued for violation of the HOA covenants. The trial court (1) enjoined the building of the Bunneys’ home and (2) awarded the HOAs their attorneys’ fees for the Bunneys’ prelitigation bad faith conduct. In Greenbank Beach and Boat Club, Inc. v. Dallas K. Bunney (Division 1, May 29, 2012), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s injunction, but reversed the award of attorneys’ fees. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: A (Limited, I Hope) Victory for Employers’ Power to Restrict Former Employees

Robert S. Moore v. Commercial Aircraft Interiors, LLC (Division 1, May 29, 2012), is not factually unique — person leaves a job, he wants to work for a competitor, lawsuits are threatened, and we end up in court — but the Court of Appeals’ ruling seems to touch on some new law regarding what sorts of litigation threats a former employer can make (hint: lots of latitude) and what redress a former employee has against those threats (hint: you’re S.O.L.). Don’t get too excited, however. While a broad reading of the opinion gives a lot of power to employers to restrict their former employees, I think a narrower (and more appropriate) reading just requires a former employee to produce some (any!) evidence of improper purpose behind an employer’s allegedly tortious actions.  Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Jurisdiction Revisited (and Muddled)

There’s a lot of back story in A & W Farms v. Raymond E. Cook (Division 3, May 22, 2012), but I’ll do my best to summarize the gist of the relevant facts.

A & W Farms (“A&W”) sued Raymond Cook and got a judgment against him (well, against his business). During that litigation, Cook purchased a ranch, but arranged the transaction so that it was placed in the name of Adeline Johnson (another defendant in this action). A&W then moved, in a supplemental proceeding, to set aside the purchase as a fraudulent transfer to Johnson. There were lots of problems with discovery in the fraudulent transfer action: Johnson was not amenable to deposition; Cook avoided service and, for some time, refused to appear; &c.

In the end, the trial court concluded that the purchase of the ranch in Johnson’s name, instead of Cook’s name, was a fraudulent transfer. The court therefore quieted title to the ranch in Cook’s name, which meant it was subject to A&W’s judgment.

So what’s the problem? Well, this is another case about subject matter jurisdiction! Cook argued in the Court of Appeals that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over A&W’s fraudulent transfer claim because it “should have been brought in the county where the property is located.” Having just read MHM&F, LLC v. Edward Pryor, Jr. (Division 1, May 21, 2012) (or perhaps the Ziff Blog summary!) you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Of course there was subject matter jurisdiction! The Washington Constitution grants broad SMJ to the superior courts that is not subject to statutory whittling!” At least, that’s what I thought.  Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Federal Statute Adequately Protects Alleged Washington Public Policy

Ah, the tort of wrongful termination in violation of public policy (“WTVPP”). It’s one of those little quirks of Washington law that made the bar exam so fun to study for. In Charles Rose v. Anderson Hay & Grain Company (Division 3, May 22, 2012), the Court of Appeals held that, even assuming there existed a Washington public policy in need of protection, the relevant federal statute adequately protected that policy. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s claim for WTVPP under Washington law was properly dismissed. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Meritless Defamation Claim Results in Sanctions

Dee Ann Stiles used to be the Secretary for the Shore Woods Homeowners’ Association (“Association”). Gerald Kearney was a former member of the Association’s Executive Board (prior to Stiles’s tenure) and apparently he didn’t think Stiles was doing a very good job. Kearney wrote some “hostile” emails to the Board claiming that there were “inherent problems” with Stiles’s work on the Board and specifically stating that her meeting minutes were “written from the point of view of someone with an axe to grind” and telling Stiles, “Do your job even-handedly or step down.”

So of course, Stiles sued for defamation! Unfortunately (for her) the trial court concluded that she failed to offer any “credible or cognizable evidence” regarding (1) the falsity of Kearney’s statements, (2) whether the statements were privileged, or (3) her claimed damages. That’s no good. The court “concluded that the complaint was not well-grounded in fact or law and that Young [Stiles’s attorney] failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry before filing the complaint.” Accordingly, the trial court awarded sanctions against Stiles and Young under CR 11 and RCW 4.84.185.

Stiles appealed. The Court of Appeals, in Dee Ann Stiles v. Gerald Kearney (Division 2, February 29, 2012) (published May 22, 2012), affirmed the trial court in full. The Court of Appeals’ decision was initially unpublished, which likely explains why the Court’s analysis of the sanction issue is very superficial. Basically, the Court sets out the general legal standards, states that the trial court properly recognized those standards, and that the decision to impose sanctions based on a “well-written six-page memorandum opinion” was not an abuse of discretion. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Court of Appeals Again Clarifies Subject Matter Jurisdiction

There are a lot of facts in MHM&F, LLC v. Edward Pryor, Jr. (Division 1, May 21, 2012), but none of them really matter. The short story: Pryor owed money on a mobile home space, he didn’t pay, so the plaintiff filed an unlawful detainer action against him. Pryor lost.

On appeal, Pryor raised two issues that he failed to raise in the trial court: (a) that the wording on the summons was defective and (b) that the mobile home association for the group of lots should have been named as a necessary party. Pryor claimed his failure to raise these issues below was not fatal because they both went to the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Continue reading