Washington State Law Update: Civil Procedure – by Timothy Mitchell

As part of an ongoing series, Timothy Mitchell, managing partner of Cruser Mitchell’s Seattle office, provides monthly updates on the latest developments in Washington insurance defense law. These updates will contain brief summaries and key quotes from recent cases.

Please contact Tim at (253) 509-1874 or tmitchell@cmlawfirm.com if you would like to discuss these cases in greater detail, or have any questions on any other matters involving Washington state law.

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

KOSROVANI v. ROGER JOBS MOTOR, INC. (6/1/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed enforcement of CR 2A settlement agreement against plaintiff even though subsequently proposed indemnity terms were not included in initial settlement agreement (the indemnity provisions were excluded from final enforcement).

Key Quote: “The purpose of CR 2A is to give certainty and finality to settlements. CR 2A applies to preclude enforcement of an agreement only when the agreement was made by the parties or attorneys “in respect to the proceedings in a cause” and the “purport” of the agreement is disputed. The purport of an agreement is disputed within the meaning of CR 2A if there is a genuine dispute over the existence or material terms of the agreement. A litigant’s remorse or second thoughts about an agreement is not sufficient to create a genuine dispute. Where the CR 2A requirements are met, a motion to enforce a settlement is a commonly accepted practice.”

 

LARSON v. JARRITOS (6/8/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 2), noting that under RCW 4.16.170 service of process on one defendant tolls the statute of limitations against unserved defendants, affirmed a motion to dismiss due to plaintiff’s failure to timely serve respondent defendants within the statute of limitations after an initially served co-defendant was dismissed from the case.

Key Quote: “Under RCW 4.16.170, service of process on one defendant tolls the statute of limitations as to unserved defendants.  But [a] plaintiff who fails to serve each defendant risks losing the right to proceed against unserved defendants if the served defendant is dismissed. Thus, if we presume for the sake of argument that the summonses and complaint were timely filed, the statute of limitations was initially tolled as to the Respondents when [plaintiff] served WinCo Foods within 90 days of [plaintiff]’s filing of the summonses and complaint. But when WinCo Foods was dismissed before [plaintiff] served either of the Respondents, [plaintiff] lost the right to proceed against the unserved parties, the Respondents, unless he can show that the statute of limitations was somehow tolled as to the Respondents.”

 

SUNDARARAMAN v. MANGAN (6/14/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed motion to strike a trial de novo request from mandatory arbitration, holding that appellant had failed to sign the request, as required by both statute and court rule.

Key Quote: “In order to obtain a trial de novo in the superior court, [w]ithin twenty days after [the arbitrator files his or her decision and award with the clerk of the superior court, together with proof of service thereof on the parties], any aggrieved party may file with the clerk a written notice of appeal and request for a trial de novo in the superior court on all issues of law and fact. The notice must be signed by the party. Such trial de novo shall thereupon be held, including a right to jury, if demanded. RCW 7.06.050(1); accord SCCAR 7.1(b) (“The request for a trial de novo…must be signed by the party.”).”

 

HARLEY MARINE SERVICES v. CHRISTENSEN (6/28/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed denial of employer’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that arbitration clause in prior employment agreement specific to a prior position did not apply when the parties signed a new employment agreement for promoted position that did not include an arbitration clause and did not incorporate terms of prior agreement.

Key Quote: “Before deciding whether specific claims are subject to arbitration, the trial court must determine whether a valid agreement to arbitrate is in effect. The usual rules of contract interpretation govern interpretation of an employment contract. Washington follows the objective theory of contract interpretation, under which courts must attempt to ascertain the intent of the parties from the objective manifestations of the agreement and ordinary meaning of the words within the contract. We determine the intent of the contracting parties by considering the language of the agreement as well as the contract as a whole, the subject matter and objective of the contract, all the circumstances surrounding the making of the contract, the subsequent acts and conduct of the parties to the contract, and the reasonableness of respective interpretations advocated by the parties.”

 

NORTHWEST RECYCLER, INC et al. v. STEVENS et al.  (4/26/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) held employee (1) could enforce prior arbitration agreement even though subsequent employee handbooks attempted to rescind arbitration agreement by not including arbitration language, and (2) did not waive right to arbitration by initially not raising arbitration defense in initial answer and discovery.

Key Quotes:

  • “Although an employer may unilaterally modify conditions of employment relating to employee discipline so long as employees receive reasonable notice, an employer may not unilaterally alter an agreement to arbitrate.”
  • “To establish waiver, on the part of its opponent, the party opposing arbitration must demonstrate that the opponent (1) had knowledge of the existing right to compel arbitration, (2) acted inconsistently with that right, and (3) those inconsistent acts prejudiced the party opposing arbitration.”

 

MILWAUKEE LUMBER Co. v. VERISTONE FUND I, LLC (3/29/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. I) held that “a party who willfully ignores a summons and complaint cannot later take advantage of the court’s authority to vacate a default judgment.”  Noting that a process server’s affidavit of service will be considered presumptively correct unless challenged, the Court of Appeals held that the appellant’s two affidavits claiming that no service had occurred, without more, were not enough to overcome this presumption.  Noting the trial court had found that the appellant had willfully failed to respond to the served complaint for “strategic” reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision to deny the motion to vacate.  This opinion, while not binding, underscores the importance of timely answering a complaint.

Key Quote (Court of Appeals reiterated the following standard for motion to vacate default judgment under CR 60(b)(1)): “The court weighs four factors when deciding this question: (1) That there is substantial evidence extant to support, at least prima facie, a defense to the claim asserted by the opposing party; (2) that the moving party’s failure to timely appear in the action, and answer the opponent’s claim, was occasioned by mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect; (3) that the moving party acted with due diligence after notice of entry of the default judgment; and (4) that no substantial hardship will result to the opposing party. But when a defendant caused the default by willfully failing to appear, the second factor outweighs the others because equity demands the judgment stand to avoid rewarding misconduct. Equity will not allow for vacation of [a default] judgment if the actions leading to default were willful. Willful defiance of the court’s authority can never be rewarded in an equitable proceeding. The movant has the burden of demonstrating that equity favors vacating the judgment.”