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 The Court of Appeals’ decision was initially unpublished, which likely explains why the Court’s analysis of the sanction issue is very superficial.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

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A Judicial Political Ad… with a Catchy Hook

Covering the Washington Courts of Appeals just got a lot more interesting. Attorney Jim Foley is running for a spot on the Division 2 Court of Appeals in Olympia. And thanks to Above the Law, I am now aware of his foot-tapping, head-bopping campaign ad/song, which features video of him cooking dinner and bench pressing in a tank top. Seriously, this aspiring judge’s rap video needs to be seen to believed:

Yes, it rhymes “denial” with “beguile.” It’s that awesome. I’m just upset he didn’t include a line or two ripping his opponents. We might have had a legit beef on our hands. The ATL story has more background on his campaign, along with another (sadly more traditional) campaign video. The whole thing is worth a read.

Daily Decisions: Apportionment of “Just Compensation” to a Commercial Tenant

I should admit at the outset that I don’t really like this case. The whole thing seems unfair. But I’m not sure how much of that perceived unfairnes is just the way it is, or whether perhaps the case should have been decided differently. I have no idea.

With that disclaimer, here is City of Puyallup v. Carl R. Hogan (Division 2, May 16, 2012). Carl Hogan owns a shopping center in Puyallup. But he used to own a little bit more. A “small portion” of his shopping center was condemned by the City in connection with a road construction project. As a taking, Hogan was entitled to “just compensation,” which a jury calculated at $5,150,000. That award was based, at least in part, on the City’s elimination of a road, which would reduce traffic and access to the center (and therefore reduce the number of shoppers).

Okay, so far so good. But then Borders (the shopping center’s “anchor tenant”) claimed that it was entitled to a portion of the award. The trial court agreed and awarded $948,000 to Borders after a “bench apportionment trial.” I admit that this is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a procedure. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Don’t Use Your Mother’s Trust Account to Buy a House for Yourself

Well, Theresa A. Roberts v. Denise H. Roberts (Division 2, May 15, 2012), is a nice little case for the Court to hand down a couple of days after Mother’s Day. Theresa Roberts is Denise Roberts’s mother. Theresa had appointed Denise to be the trustee of a revocable living trust Theresa created to provide for her own care.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Denise wasn’t the best choice for trustee. Denise took money out of the trust account to pay for her own property and to build a home. Then she put Theresa in an assisted living facility. When a court appointed a “guardian” to look after Theresa’s interests and to protect Theresa’s assets — a protection deemed necessary because of Theresa’s dementia — Denise promptly transferred property to her husband and other insiders for no consideration. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Drug Test Results Exempt from Public Records Act

The Freedom Foundation (“FF”) filed a public records request for documents relating to a ferry accident in Seattle. In Freedom Foundation v. Washington State Department of Transportation (Division 2, May 10, 2012), the Court of Appeals referred to the accident as an “allision,” which is defined as “contact between a moving vessel and a stationary vessel or object.” That was a new one for me. I like it.

Anyway, in response to FF’s request, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) produced documents, including information that drug and alcohol testing had been conducted on the ferry’s crew. However, DOT redacted the results of the individual tests. FF filed suit, asserting a right to unredacted records.

The Court of Appeals held that the records were properly redacted pursuant to (1) the PRA’s “other statute” exception, together with (2) federal regulations requiring that drug test results be kept confidential. Under the relevant federal regulations, marine employees must be tested for alcohol and drugs following any “serious marine incident.” The ferry employees here at issue were tested pursuant to that requirement. However, related regulations require that the results of those tests be kept confidential. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: County’s Attorneys’ Invoices Are Not (Necessarily) “Public Records”

Thurston County is a member of the Washington Counties Risk Pool, which provides self-insured coverage for various counties’ liability. Thurston has a $250,000 deductible. As part of the deal, the Risk Pool can appoint defense counsel for the County in covered cases. Until the deductible is reached, the attorneys’ invoices go to the County and the County pays them. After the deductible is exhausted, bills no longer go to the County and the County has no responsibility to pay them.

Back in 2001 “several former prosecutors sued the County for discrimination (the Broyles litigation).” The Risk Pool covered the claims. The plaintiffs won large awards against the County. The first $250,000 of invoices were received and paid by the County. But there were an additional $1.9 million of invoices above the deductible that the County never saw and that it was not responsible for paying. The Risk Pool took care of that.

Arthur West wanted to see those invoices, so he submitted a PRA request to the County for records related to attorney billings on the case. That request has been subject to numerous prior cases and opinions and remands and whatnot. But none of that is really relevant to the issue on this appeal, which is an issue of first impression:

whether the definition of a Thurston County “public record” under the  PRA includes attorney fee invoices for amounts greater than the County’s $250,000 deductible, which invoices the County’s Risk Pool-appointed defense attorneys prepared and never provided to the County (because these invoices properly were submitted to and paid by the County’s Risk Pool).

In Arthur S. West v. Thurston County (Division 2, May 8, 2012), the Court of Appeals held that the invoices are not public records under the PRA. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: County and Coordinating Contractor Not Liable to Injured Worker as “General Contractors”

Ignacio Cano-Garcia was injured on a construction project owned by King County and monitored by Jacobs Civil, Inc. While working with cement, the mixture got into his boots and attached to his skin; he required skin graft surgery for his injuries. Cano-Garcia claimed that King County and Jacobs “each had a duty to protect him from injury” on the project.

In Ignacio Cano-Garcia v. King County (Division 2, May 8, 2012), the Court of Appeals disagreed, holding as a matter of law that neither Jacobs nor the County owed a duty to Cano-Garcia to protect him from injury. Rather, that duty belonged to Kenny/Shea/Traylor (“KST”), one of eight general contractors on the project and the one for which Cano-Garcia worked. However, under the workers’ comp system, KST was immune from suit. (Also under the workers’ comp system, Cano-Garcia received payments from the Department of Labor for his medical bills and lost time.) Continue reading