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Coie v. Williams

January 27, 1997

PERKINS COIE, A LAW PARTNERSHIP, RESPONDENT,
v.
STEPHANIE WILLIAMS, A SINGLE PERSON; AND RICHARD WILLIAMS AND CHRIS WILLIAMS, HUSBAND AND WIFE, AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY THEREOF, PETITIONERS.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 93-2-13356-1. Date filed: 06/27/95. Judge signing: Hon. Robert J. Wesley.

Petition for Review Denied July 8, 1997,

Authored by Ronald E. Cox. Concurring: C. Kenneth Grosse, Mary K. Becker.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cox

COX, J. -- May a party who arbitrates claims under the Superior Court Mandatory Arbitration Rules request a trial de novo of less than all the issues of fact and law that were arbitrated? We hold that a party may not so limit a request for a trial de novo. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's orders and remand this case for further proceedings.

The Perkins Coie law firm brought this action against Richard and Chris Williams and their daughter, Stephanie Williams. The firm sought to recover payment for legal services incurred during its representation of Stephanie in a personal injury action. The case proceeded to arbitration under the Superior Court Mandatory Arbitration Rules. The arbitrator made an award against Stephanie Williams in favor of Perkins. There was no award against Richard and Chris Williams.

Perkins timely filed and served its request for a trial de novo, but purported to limit the scope of the matters to be submitted for trial by modifying the form of request specified in MAR 7.1(a). *fn1 The firm added the words "as to the defendants, Richard Williams and Chris Williams only" after the filing date of the award in its request. Richard and Chris Williams moved to strike the request, arguing that Perkins had omitted Stephanie Williams from the trial de novo. According to them, the statute and rules governing mandatory arbitration do not permit partial trials de novo. The trial court denied their motion to strike and a motion for reconsideration. We granted discretionary review.

I

Partial Trial De Novo

Richard and Chris Williams argue that the mandatory arbitration statute, RCW 7.06.050, bars a request for a trial de novo of less than all issues and parties to the arbitration proceeding. We hold that a request for a trial de novo may not exclude any issue of law or fact that was arbitrated.

At issue is the interpretation of the mandatory arbitration statute. Statutory interpretation is a question of law that is subject to de novo review. *fn2 We apply certain principles to our task. First, a statute that is clear on its face is not subject to judicial interpretation. *fn3 Second, an ambiguity will be deemed to exist if the statute is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. *fn4 Third, if a statute is subject to judicial interpretation, it will be construed in the manner that best fulfills the legislative purpose and intent. *fn5

RCW 7.06.050 provides in part that:

Following a hearing as prescribed by court rule, the arbitrator shall file his decision and award with the clerk of the superior court, together with proof of service thereof on the parties. Within twenty days after such filing, 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. Such trial de novo shall thereupon be held, including a right to jury, if demanded. *fn6

The italicized phrase "all issues of law and fact" in the above excerpt defines the minimum scope of issues that a request for trial de novo must contain following an arbitration. Terms that are not defined by the statute in question must be accorded their plain and ordinary meaning unless a contrary intent appears. *fn7 The word "all" is undefined by the statute. The plain and ordinary meaning of that word is "being or representing the entire or total number, amount, or quantity." *fn8 No contrary intent appears in this statute. RCW 7.06.050 is plain on its face and is not susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation. Therefore, we conclude that all issues of law and fact with respect to Stephanie Williams, as well as Richard and Chris Williams, were necessary to a request for trial de novo. Perkins' unilateral attempt to exclude from consideration those issues respecting Stephanie Williams was contrary to the clear provisions of the statute.

Our reading of the statute is consistent with the Legislature's clear statement of policy. Requests for modification of that policy should be directed ...


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