Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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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

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This case involved the transfer of property that once belonged to Vanessa Ward, now in possession of Selene RMOF II REO Acquisitions II LLC (“Selene”), which acquired the property in 2012 from a purchaser at a nonjudicial foreclosure sale. It also concerned Ward's claim that she was the victim of mortgage fraud regarding the property in 2004 and that all subsequent property transfers were therefore void. Selene challenged an unpublished Court of Appeals decision reversing an order granting Selene a writ of restitution evicting Ward from the property. At issue was: (1) whether Selene was authorized to bring an unlawful detainer action as a purchaser from someone who had bought the property at a nonjudicial foreclosure sale; and (2) whether the summary procedures of unlawful detainer were available where Ward asserted ownership of the property she occupied via an unrecorded quitclaim deed. The Washington Supreme Court held unlawful detainer was available to Selene under the circumstances of this case and reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Selene RMOF II Reo Acquisitions II, LLC v. Ward" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Chelan Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) sought the removal of six acres of fill material that respondent GBI Holding Co. added to its property in 1961 to keep the formerly dry property permanently above the artificially raised seasonal water fluctuations of Lake Chelan. At issue was whether the State consented to the fill's impairment of that right and, if so, whether such consent violated the public trust doctrine. After review, the Washington Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the legislature consented to the fill's impairment of navigable waters under RCW 90.58.270 (the Savings Clause), but the Court of Appeals prematurely concluded such consent did not violate the public trust doctrine. Because the trial court never reached the highly factual public trust issue, the Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to determine in the first instance whether RCW 90.58.270 violated the public trust doctrine. View "Chelan Basin Conservancy v. GBI Holding Co." on Justia Law

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An exception to the open meeting mandate of the Washington's Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) permits governing bodies to enter executive session "[t]o consider the minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale or lease when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of decreased price." The parties disputed the scope of this exception as applied to five executive sessions conducted by the Port of Vancouver USA (the Port). The scope of this "minimum price" exception was a matter of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court. It held that a government entity may enter executive session to discuss the minimum acceptable value to sell or lease property, but not to discuss all factors comprising that value. To the extent that various factors directly alter the lowest acceptable value, the governing body may discuss how these factors impact the minimum price; but general discussion of the contextual factors themselves must still occur at an open public meeting. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's partial summary judgment in favor of the Port and remanded for further proceedings. View "Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA" on Justia Law