Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Pagliacci Pizza hired Steven Burnett as a delivery driver. Steven Burnett attended a mandatory new employee orientation at a local Pagliacci Pizza. During the orientation, Pagliacci gave Burnett multiple forms and told him to sign them so that he could start working. One of the forms that Burnett signed was a one-page “Employee Relationship Agreement” (ERA). The ERA mentioned nothing about arbitration of disputes. Pagliacci’s “Mandatory Arbitration Policy” (MAP) was printed in Pagliacci’s employee handbook, “Little Book of Answers,” a 23-page booklet in which Pagliacci’s MAP appeared on page 18. The MAP was not listed in the handbook’s table of contents, and page 18 fell within the “Mutual Fairness Benefits” section. Burnett was given a copy of Little Book of Answers during his orientation and told to read it at home. Consistent with that instruction, the ERA contained a section entitled “Rules and Policies.” Delivery drivers like Burnett filed a class action alleging wage and hour claims against Pagliacci Pizza. At issue on interlocutory review was whether the trial court sustainably denied the employer’s motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals affirmed, determining that the mandatory arbitration policy contained in the employee handbook, which was provided to the named plaintiff after he signed the employment relationship agreement, was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and, thus, unenforceable. The Washington Supreme Court held that the MAP at issue in this case was indeed unenforceable because no arbitration agreement was formed when the employee signed the employment agreement when he had no notice of the arbitration provision contained in the employee handbook. The Court also held that in light of the noted circumstances, even if an arbitration contract existed, it was procedurally unconscionable and unenforceable. Furthermore, the Court held the same arbitration provision was substantively unconscionable because its one-sided terms and limitation provisions would bar any claim by the terminated employee here, an overly harsh result. Accordingly, the trial court’s order denying the employer’s motion to compel arbitration was affirmed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Pagliacci Pizza, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case involved claims against King County, Washington regarding jury selection and compensation. In 2016, petitioners filed a class action complaint in Pierce County, Washington Superior Court. They contended: (1) they had standing to file suit under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act; (2) jurors were employees entitled to minimum wage under Washington's Minimum Wage Act; and (3) RCW 2.36.080(3) created an implied cause of action for increased juror reimbursement based on economic status. Petitioners alleged that low rates of expense reimbursement have a greater impact on low-income jurors and asserted that this causes many jurors to seek excusal on the basis of financial hardship or to simply not respond to summons. Petitioners Nicole Bednarczyk and Catherine Selin sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the superior court’s summary judgment dismissal of their declaratory relief, minimum wage, and disparate impact claims regarding jury service in King County. The Washington Supreme Court found standing was satisfied, but that jurors were not employees entitled to minimum wage, and there was no implied cause of action for requiring increased pay for jurors under RCW 2.36.080(3). "While we do not reach the inherent authority arguments, we take this opportunity to comment that low juror reimbursement is a serious issue that has contributed to poor juror summons response rates. The concerns raised by amici and petitioners as to the impact of low juror reimbursement on juror diversity, low-income jurors, and the administration of justice as a whole are valid points. While we should continue to cooperate with the other branches of government in an effort to address the long-standing problems identified by petitioners and amici, these concerns are best resolved in the legislative arena." View "Rocha v. King County" on Justia Law

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Krista Peoples and Joel Stedman filed Washington Consumer Protection Act ("CPA") suits against their insurance carriers for violating Washington claims-handling regulations and wrongfully denying them personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. The federal district court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law relating to whether Peoples and Stedman alleged an injury to "business or property" to invoke their respective policies' PIP benefits. Peoples alleged her insurance carrier refused, without any individualized assessment, to pay medical provider bills whenever a computerized review process determined the bill exceeded a predetermined limit, and that the insurance company's failure to investigate or make individualized determinations violated WAC 284-30-330(4) and WAC 284-30-395(1). Due to this practice of algorithmic review, the insurance carrier failed to pay all reasonable medical expenses arising from a covered event, in violation or RCW 48.22.005(7). Stedman alleged his carrier terminate PIP benefits whenever an insured reached "Maximum Medical Improvement," which he alleged violated WAC 284-30-395(1). The Washington Supreme Court held an insurance carrier's wrongful withholding of PIP benefits injures the insured in their "business or property." An insured in these circumstances may recover actual damages, if proved, including out-of-pocket medical expenses that should have been covered, and could seek injunctive relief, such as compelling payment of the benefits to medical providers. Other business or property injuries, apart from wrongful denial of benefits, that are caused by an insurer's mishandling of PIP claims are also cognizable under the CPA. View "Peoples v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The federal district court in Washington State certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. Plaintiffs Valerie Sampson and David Raymond (collectively, Sampson) were Washington residents who worked as commercial truck drivers for defendants Knight Transportation Inc., Knight Refrigerated, LLC, and Knight Port Services LLC (collectively, Knight). Plaintiffs brought this putative class action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated for several alleged violations of Washington wage and hour laws. At issue here was Sampson's claim that piece-rate drivers must receive separate hourly compensation for all time spent "on-duty not- driving." The question the federal court posed to the Supreme Court was whether the Washington Minimum Wage Act required non-agricultural employers to pay their piece-rate employees per hour for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate work. The Supreme Court responded: no. "All workers must be compensated for all hours worked in a work week in accordance with the Minimum Wage Act (MWA). For nonagricultural workers, WAC 296-126-021 validly allows employers to demonstrate compliance with the MWA's guaranty that Washington workers receive a minimum wage for each hour worked by ensuring that the total wages for the week do not fall below the statutory minimum wage for each hour worked. Accordingly, the plaintiffs in this case fail to demonstrate as a matter of law that they were uncompensated for time spent "loading and unloading, pre-trip inspections, fueling, detention at a shipper or consignee, washing trucks, and other similar activities." View "Sampson v. Knight Transp., Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case began in 2016 when the two named plaintiffs filed this putative class action lawsuit against Dovex on behalf of Dovex's seasonal and migrant agricultural employees. Each summer, Dovex employs hundreds of seasonal and migrant workers, many of whom speak limited English, to harvest apples, pears, and cherries in Dovex's orchards. The plaintiffs alleged Dovex violated state and federal law by willfully refusing to pay wages and failing to "pay minimum wage, provide paid rest breaks, maintain accurate and adequate time and wage records, pay wages when due, [and] provide accurate statements of hours worked." The federal court asked: (1) whether Washington law requires agricultural employers to pay their pieceworkers for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work); if yes, then how must agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work)? The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question “yes:” agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis. The Court answered the second question posed consistent with the parties’ position: the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work must be calculated at the applicable minimum wage or the agreed rate, whichever was greater. View "Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co." on Justia Law

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Judith Chavez and other registered nurses (nurses) sought class certification in their wage action against their employer, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital at Pasco d/b/a Lourdes Medical Center and John Serle (Lourdes). The trial court denied class certification, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly found that the nurses failed to satisfy the predominance and superiority requirements necessary for class certification. The Court held the trial court abused its discretion by finding that individual issues predominate and by failing to compare alternative methods of adjudication. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that predominance was met because the dominant and overriding issue in this litigation was whether Lourdes failed to ensure the nurses could take rest breaks and second meal periods and could record missed breaks. Superiority was met because a class action was superior to other methods of adjudication for the resolution of these claims. View "Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hosp. at Pasco" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Wright received an unsolicited text message that appeared to come from an acquaintance inviting him to download Lyft's cellphone application. Wright sued as a putative class member. The federal district court has certified questions of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court pertaining to the Washington Consumer Electronic Mail Act (CEMA) and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The questions centered on whether (1) the recipient of a text message that violates the CEMA has a private right of action for damages (as opposed to injunctive relief) directly under the statute; and (2) whether the liquidated damages provision of CEMA establish a causation and/or injury elements of a claim under the CPA, or must a recipient of a text in violation of CEMA prove injury-in-fact before s/he can recover the liquidated amount. The Washington Supreme Court answered "no" to the first question, and "yes" to the second. View "Wright v. Lyft, Inc." on Justia Law

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Farmworkers filed a class action lawsuit against four corporate defendants. Two questions of Washington law were certified to the Washington Supreme Court, arising from this suit: The first question implicated RCW 19.30.010(2)'s definition of a "farm labor contractor." The second question implicated RCW 19.30.200, which imposed joint and several liability for Farm Labor Contractor Act (FLCA) violations. The certified questions required the Supreme Court to decide whether defendant-appellant NW Management and Realty Services Inc. was a "farm labor contractor" under RCW 19.30.01 0(2) and, if so, whether the other defendants "knowingly use[ d]" its services under RCW 19.30.200 (There is no dispute that NW was unlicensed at all times relevant to this case). The plain language of the FLCA compels the Washington Court to answer yes to both certified questions. View "Saucedo v. John Hancock Life & Health Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff in this putative class action was a Texas resident. Plaintiff alleged she received deceptive debt collection letters from defendant Seattle Service Bureau Inc. (SSB), a corporation with its principal place of business in Washington, pursuant to the referral of unliquidated subrogation claims to SSB by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, a corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. Plaintiff alleges these letters constitute CPA violations by both SSB and State Farm as its principal. Plaintiff asserted she incurred damages caused by the alleged deceptive acts. This case involved two certified questions from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. First, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA), chapter 19.86 RCW) allowed a cause of action for a plaintiff residing outside Washington to sue a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts. Second, the Court was asked to determine whether the CPA supported a cause of action for an out-of-state plaintiff to sue an out-of-state defendant for the allegedly deceptive acts of its instate agent. The United States District Court noted an absence of Washington case law providing guidance on these issues. The Washington Supreme Court answered both certified questions in the affirmative. View "Thornell v. Seattle Serv. Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law

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In November 1998, Respondent David Moeller’s 1996 Honda Civic CRX was damaged in a collision. Respondent had an insurance policy through Farmers Insurance Company of Washington (Farmers). Farmers chose to repair Respondent's damaged car, and he authorized the repairs. In May 1999, Respondent brought suit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated Farmers policy holders in Washington State asserting a breach of contract claim on the grounds that Farmers failed to restore his vehicle to its "preloss condition through payment of the difference in the value between the vehicle's pre-loss value and its value after it was damaged, properly repaired and returned." The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court was whether the contract between Farmers and Respondent provided for the diminished value of the post-accident, repaired car. Upon review, the Court affirmed the appellate court which held that the policy language at issue here allowed for recovery for the diminution in value. View "Moeller v. Farmers Ins. Co. of Wash." on Justia Law