Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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When a lessee does not timely exercise an option contained in a lease agreement, special circumstances may warrant granting them extra time to exercise the option. In this case, petitioner Burbank Properties LLC mailed its notice shortly after the deadline had passed, and the trial court awarded Burbank an equitable grace period to exercise the option on summary judgment where it was undisputed that no valuable permanent improvements were made. The Washington Supreme Court granted review to decide valuable permanent improvements to the property were a necessary prerequisite to granting the equitable grace period. The Court held that granting an equitable grace period was proper only when a lessee made valuable improvements to property that would result in an inequitable forfeiture if the lessee was not given a grace period. View "Borton & Sons, Inc. v. Burbank Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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After a night of drinking with friends, Kimberly Gerlach fell from the second-story balcony of her boyfriend’s unit at the Cove Apartments when the railing gave way. Gerlach sued, arguing Cove’s failure to repair the railing caused her fall and violated Cove’s duties to tenants and their guests. A jury agreed and found Cove was 93 percent at fault for Gerlach’s injuries. The Court of Appeals overturned this verdict and remanded for a new trial, finding the trial court erred by excluding evidence of Gerlach’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and by not dismissing Gerlach’s statutory claim under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973 (RLTA). After review, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the appeals court: (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding BAC evidence that was only minimally relevant to Cove’s affirmative defense and risked prejudicing the jury against Gerlach.; and (2) while the trial court should not have allowed Gerlach’s RLTA claim, "this error alone does not justify a new trial because the jury’s verdict remains valid as to Gerlach’s common law claim." View "Gerlach v. The Cove Apartments, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1854, the Washington Territory and nine Native American tribes, including the Squaxin Island Tribe (the Tribe), entered into the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek (the Treaty), under which the Tribe relinquished their rights to land but retained “the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations . . . , in common with all citizens of the Territory.” The District Court for the Western District of Washington has interpreted “fish” under the Treaty to include shellfish. In 1978, Leslie and Harlene Robbins (Robbins) purchased property in Mason County, Washington that included tidelands with manila clam beds. In connection with the purchase of the property, Robbins obtained a standard policy of title insurance from Mason County Title Insurance Company (MCTI) which provided MCTI would insure Robbins “against loss or damage sustained by reason of: . . . [a]ny defect in, or lien or encumbrance on, said title existing at the date hereof.” For years Robbins had contracted with commercial shellfish harvesters to enter Robbins’s property to harvest shellfish from the tidelands. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether MCTI had a duty to defend Robbins when the Tribe announced it planned to assert its treaty right to harvest shellfish from the property. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that because the insurance policy conceivably covered the treaty right and no exceptions to coverage applied, MCTI owed the property owners a duty to defend and, in failing to do so, breached the duty. Because this breach was unreasonable given the uncertainty in the law, MCTI acted in bad faith. Further, because the property owners did not seek summary judgment on MCTI’s affirmative defenses, the Supreme Court remanded to the superior court for consideration of the defenses. View "Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Pepper and Clarice Kirkendoll hired loggers to harvest their trees. But Pepper Kirkendoll misrepresented the boundaries of his and Clarice's land, and the loggers harvested trees belonging to the neighbors, Jerry Porter and Karen Zimmer. Porter and Zimmer sued the Kirkendolls and the loggers. The loggers settled with Porter and Zimmer and assigned to them their indemnity and contribution claims against the Kirkendolls as part of that settlement. The remaining parties then filed separate motions for summary judgment. The trial court dismissed the case, ruling that the settlement released the Kirkendolls from liability and that Porter and Zimmer had no valid contribution or indemnity claims. The Court of Appeals reversed, making a series of holdings. It held that the settlement did not release the Kirkendolls from potential liability for their own tort of directing the timber trespass. It held that Porter and Zimmer could proceed with their assigned indemnity claims, but not with their assigned contribution claims. And it held that Porter and Zimmer were precluded from recovering under the waste statute because relief was available under the timber trespass statute. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's holdings that the settlement did not release the Kirkendolls from liability and that Porter and Zimmer were precluded from recovering under the waste statute. But the Court reversed the appellate court's holding on the indemnity and contribution claims. View "Porter v. Kirkendoll" on Justia Law

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A recall petition was filed against the Mayor and three Cathlamet council members; charges stemmed from Cathlamet’s purchase of a parcel of property at 20 Butler street. The petition alleged a violation of the Washington Constitution as a gift of public funds to the seller of the Butler Street property, Bernadette Goodroe. One additional charge against one town counselor alleged violation of RCW 42.23.070(2), prohibiting municipal officials from giving or receiving gifts related to their official capacities. The Washington Supreme Court determined the charges in the recall petition was legally insufficient, because acquisition of real property is a fundamental government purpose and discretionary act that was not manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "In re Recall of Burnham" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the Washington State Housing Finance Commission (“Commission”) had standing to challenge the National Homebuyers Fund’s (“NHF”) authority to provide down payment assistance to Washington residents in conjunction with federally insured mortgages. The Commission alleged NHF was falsely claiming governmental authority when it provided down payment assistance in Washington, impermissibly competing with the Commission’s own activities. The Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the Commission on the basis that the Commission lacked standing. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding the Commission indeed had standing. View "Wash. State Hous. Fin. Comm'n v. Nat'l Homebuyers Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court concerning premises liability. Shannon Adamson, an employee of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), fell approximately 15 feet when the passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham's (Port) Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) collapsed. The accident caused severe, life-changing injuries. The State of Alaska leased the BCT from the Port, allowing ferries to dock at the BCT and load and unload passengers and their vehicles. The Port elected to not implement an interlock device; when Adamson was operating the passenger ramp, slack was created in some attached cables. When she removed the locking pins, the ramp collapsed, snapped the cables, and Adamson and the ramp fell approximately 15 feet until the ramp caught on the ferry. Adamson and her husband sued the Port in federal court, alleging negligence and seeking damages for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. The federal court determined Adamson was the Port's business invitee; the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adamson and awarded over $16 million in damages. The court found the Port under three separate theories of liability: duty to a business invitee, duty as a landlord, and a promise to perform repairs under the lease contract. The issue presented to the Washington Supreme Court centered on whether a property owner-landlord was liable for injuries that occur on its property when the lessee has exclusive possession at the time of the accident but only priority use under the lease and the landlord has contracted to maintain and repair the premises. The Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and consequently, did not address the second question. View "Adamson v. Port of Bellingham" on Justia Law

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The Washington civil forfeiture statute allows law enforcement agencies to seize and take ownership of property that had a sufficient factual nexus to certain controlled substance violations; if law enforcement cannot prove the forfeiture is authorized, the claimant would be entitled to have the property returned and receive reasonable attorneys' fees incurred to get the property back. This case presented two issues of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court regarding the attorney fee provision of the statute: (1) who qualifies as a claimant when the property at issue is owned by a corporation; and (2) is a substantially prevailing claimant's fee award strictly limited to fees incurred in the forfeiture proceeding itself? The Court held: (1) a corporate shareholder who did not file a claim in the forfeiture case is not a claimant and cannot recover fees pursuant to the statute's plain language; and (2) the award is not strictly limited to fees incurred in the forfeiture proceeding itself - the statute gives courts discretion to award fees from the related criminal case if reasonably incurred for the primary purpose of resisting the forfeiture. View "Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enf't Team v. Junction City Lots 1 through 12 Inclusive" on Justia Law

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Ricardo and Luz Garcia and Ted and Andean Henley were neighbors in Tieton, Washington. The two families' plots shared a boundary line separated by a fence. The Henleys rebuilt the boundary fence multiple times during the 1990s. Each time, the fence crept farther and farther on to the Garcia property. The largest encroachment, extending a foot across the boundary line, occurred in 1997 while the Garcias were on vacation. The Garcias objected to this intrusion, but took no legal or other action. In 2011, the Henleys again moved the fence. Mr. Garcia placed apple bins along a portion of the 1997 fence to prevent the Henleys from creeping farther onto the property. As a result, the 2011 fence tracked the 1997 fence for that shielded portion, but arced onto the Garcia plot for the 67 feet that did not have apple bins protecting it, encroaching an additional half foot. The Garcias again requested that the Henleys move the fence, and the Henleys refused. The Garcias initiated suit in 2012, seeking ejectment and damages. The Henleys counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title in their name. In closing argument, the Henleys raised the doctrine of "[d]e[m]inimis [e]ncroachment" to argue that any minor deviation from the boundary line of the adversely possessed property should be disregarded. The trial court determined the Henleys adversely possessed the land encompassed by the 1997 fence, but that the 2011 fence encroached an additional 33.5 square feet, and that 2011 sliver had not been adversely possessed. Rather than grant an injunction ordering the Henleys to abate the continuing trespass and move the fence, the trial court ordered the Garcias to sell the 2011 sliver to the Henleys for $500. The Washington Supreme Court found that in exceptional circumstances, when equity so demands, a court may deny an ejectment order and instead compel the landowner to convey a property interest to the encroacher. To support such an order, the court must reason through the elements listed in Arnold v. Melani, 450 P.2d 815 (1968). The burden of showing each element by clear and convincing evidence lied with the encroacher. If not carried, failure to enter an otherwise warranted ejection order is reversible error. The Supreme Court determined the Henleys failed to carry their burden. The matter was reversed and remanded to the trial court; the Garcias were entitled to ejectment as a matter of law. View "Garcia v. Henley" on Justia Law

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Landowners Harlan and Maxine Douglass (Douglass) brought a private right of action against Shamrock Paving Inc. under the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), chapter 70.105DRCW, to recover costs incurred from an alleged remedial action. Shamrock trespassed onto Douglass' vacant property and spilled an unknown amount of lube oil.Douglass paid for soil testing and soil removal to clean up his property and sought recovery of those costs under the MTCA. At issue for the Washington Supreme Court's consideration was the interpretation of "remedial action" within the statute, whether the lube oil on Douglass' property created a "potential threat" to human health or the environment, in addition to which party would thus be considered the "prevailing party." The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' holding that Douglass' soil testing was a remedial action, but the soil removal was not. The Court also reversed the appellate court's prevailing party designation because it was premature. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Douglass v. Shamrock Paving, Inc." on Justia Law