Earlier today, the International Franchise Association filed a lawsuit against Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, claiming that the ordinance unfairly discriminated against franchisees as a class. Part of the claim (perhaps the strongest part) is based on Article I, Section 12 of the Washington State Constitution, which reads in its entirety:
No law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens, or corporations.
The IFA claims that the minimum wage ordinance violates Art. I, Sec. 12 because it treats one class of corporations (franchisees) differently than other corporations.
But why do “classes” of corporations receive any protection under the Washington Constitution? The text of the provision specifically talks about granting privileges to “any citizen” (the singular), any “class of citizens” (the plural), or any “corporation” (the singular). There is no language regarding “classes” of corporations.
Under the usual rules regarding the interpretation of constitutional texts, the singular “corporation” next to the specific inclusion of classes of non-corporate citizens would compel the conclusion that classes of corporations are not protected by the provision.
I did a bit of quick research this afternoon through Washington Supreme Court cases, and none of them seem to directly address this question—though they do apply the provision to classes of corporations. It seems like IFA’s complaint has some basis in Washington’s case law, but I wonder if it has any basis in Washington’s Constitution?