The Supreme Court issued opinions in several cases today.
Port Angeles v. Our Water-Our Choice, No. 82225-5. The question before the court is whether citizen initiatives to reverse a city council’s decision to fluoridate its water supply are valid. The Port Angeles City Council decided to fluoridate its city’s water supply, but two citizen groups filed local initiatives to repeal the fluoridation plan. A trial court reviewed the initiatives and determined they were invalid for three reasons: they were administrative rather than legislative, they interfered with the council’s legislatively-delegated authority to regulate the water supply, and they exceeded the council’s legislative authority. In a 5-4 ruling, with Justice Tom Chambers writing, the Supreme Court ruled against the citizen’s groups. Citing previous cases, the court held that local initiatives that are administrative in nature (that is, initiatives which carry out an existing law or policy rather than making a new law) go beyond the scope of local initiative authority. Justice Richard Sanders, dissenting, wrote that the majority diminished the state’s constitutional commitment to the people’s right to directly create law.
Hudson v. Hapner, No. 82409-6. At what point can a party withdraw a request for a civil trial? Clifford Hapner rear-ended Lea Hudson, and Hudson sued for damages. The case went to mandatory arbitration where Hudson was awarded $14,538. After mandatory arbitration Hapner requested a trial, and the jury awarded Hudson $292,298. Hapner appealed, won a reversal, and the case was remanded for a new trial. After discovery for the second trial, but before the trial took place, Hapner filed a notice of withdrawal of his motion for a trial. This would allow him to pay only the arbitration award, plus Hapner’s court costs. The trial court struck the withdrawal at Hudson’s request. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, writing for the majority, agreed that court rules allow for a unilateral withdrawal, but held that this right must be exercised prior to the start of trial proceedings. Thus, Hapner was precluded from withdrawing his request for a trial and the trial will move forward unless the parties reach a settlement. Justice Sanders dissented, writing: “It is difficult to address the majority’s reasoning because, much like Frankenstein’s monster, the majority opinion is a sewn-together collection of partial arguments, each pilfered from a different cadaver and none lending any real support to its conclusion.”
Overlake Hosp. Ass’n v. Dep’t of Health, No. 82728-1. The legislature created the certificate of need program, which authorizes the Department of Health to control the number and types of health care services and facilities that are provided in a given area, in order to ensure that services and facilities are developed according to identified priorities and without unnecessary duplication. For certain health care providers to establish or expand health care facilities within this state they must obtain a certificate of need from the Department. The Department granted such a certificate to Swedish Health Services. Overlake Hospital Association and Evergreen Healthcare objected to the CN, and requested an adjudicative hearing. The hearing officer and later a superior court judge upheld the Department decision, but the Court of Appeals held the decision was based on an incorrect interpretation of governing statutes. The Supreme Court held that the appeals court failed to accord sufficient deference to the Department’s interpretation of the law, and affirmed the decision to issue a certificate of need. Justice Gerry Alexander wrote the unanimous opinion.
Rousso v. State, No. 83040-1. Lee Rousso, an attorney and amateur poker player, is challenging the state’s ban on Internet gambling, arguing it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the ban. Justice Sanders opened the court’s opinion with an emphatic statement:
The question before this court is not whether Internet gambling, including playing poker on-line, should be illegal. That determination is reserved to the legislature, and the legislature addressed the issue by enacting and amending RCW 9.46.240, which criminalizes the knowing transmission and reception of gambling information by various means, including use of the Internet. Since sending and receiving gambling information is illegal, Internet gambling in the state of Washington is effectively banned.
It is not the role of the judiciary to second-guess the wisdom of the legislature, which enacted this ban. The court has no authority to conduct its own balancing of the pros and cons stemming from banning, regulating, or openly permitting Internet gambling.
The court rejected the argument that the ban was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause. The court reasoned that the language of the statute does not openly discriminate against out-of-state entities in favor of in-state ones, as the ban applies evenly in state and out of state. “Here, the legislature balanced public policy concerns and determined the interests of Washington are best served by banning Internet gambling. The legislature chose the advantages and disadvantages of a ban over the advantages and disadvantages of regulation. … Under the dormant commerce clause, the burden on interstate commerce is not ‘clearly excessive’ in light of the state interests. RCW 9.46.240 does not violate the dormant commerce clause.”
State v. Doughty, No. 82852-1. A police officer observed Walter Doughty drive up to a drug house at 3:20 a.m., stop for two minutes, and leave. The officer stopped Doughty, discovered that he was driving with a suspended license, and upon searching him found that he had, indeed, bought drugs. Doughty claims that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him. The issue in this case is whether Doughty’s actions created reasonable suspicion for the officer to conduct a Terry stop. Doughty was convicted in Spokane County Superior Court and the Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. The Supreme Court, with Justice Sanders writing the majority, held that the police officer lacked sufficient to stop Doughty. As a result, the court suppressed the evidence and vacated Doughty’s conviction. Justice Mary Fairhurst dissented. While the officer might lack grounds for an arrest, she wrote, he was certainly justified in stopping and questioning Doughty.
State v. S.J.W, No. 83177-7. This case presents the question of whether the burden of proving a child witness incompetent to testify is on the party calling the witness. S.J.W., a minor, was convicted of raping another minor. At trial, the court required S.J.W. to prove that the victim was incompetent to testify. S.J.W. failed to do so. S.J.W. appealed, claiming the burden should have been on the state to prove his victim’s competency. The Court of Appeals agreed, but found that the state met its burden and upheld the conviction. The Supreme Court, with Justice Charles Johnson writing the unanimous opinion, held that a party challenging the competency of a child witness has the burden of rebutting that presumption. The court affirmed the Court of Appeals but hold that trial courts should presume that 14-year-old children are competent to testify.