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Fray v. Spokane County

February 20, 1997

DAVID P. FRAY, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALAINA M. FRAY, HIS MINOR DAUGHTER; PATRICIA K. PAYNE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF DESIREE C. PAYNE, HER MINOR DAUGHTER, APPELLANTS,
v.
SPOKANE COUNTY; AND THE SPOKANE COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of Spokane County. Docket No: 95-2-00323-5. Date filed: 07/17/95. Judge signing: Hon. Larry M. Kristianson.

Petition for Review Granted July 8, 1997,

Authored by Dennis J. Sweeney. Concurring: John A. Schultheis, Ray E. Munson.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweeney

SWEENEY, C.J. Deputy Sheriff David P. Fray sued his employer, Spokane County and the Spokane County Sheriff's Department, for negligence after he was injured on the job. He claims that the Law Enforcement Officers' and Fire Fighters' Retirement System Act (LEOFF) Plan II gives him the right to sue his employer. The County argues that it does not. But if the Legislature did provide the right to sue, it did not intend to and corrected that mistake by amendment in 1992. Regardless, the County contends the suit is barred by the employer immunity granted by the Industrial Insurance Act (RCW 51). Deputy Fray responds that the 1992 amendment to the LEOFF Plan II is unconstitutional because the title of the amendatory act does not convey the amendment's effects, in violation of article II, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution, and the amendment only refers to the statute titles rather than setting the statute out in full, in violation of article II, section 37 of our constitution.

ISSUES

The contentions of Deputy Fray and the County frame four issues:

(1) Does LEOFF's statutory language authorize suits by police against their employers. We conclude that it does. Should we nonetheless consider legislative history to determine whether that benefit was conferred by mistake? We conclude we should not.

(2) Does the title to the 1992 amendment to LEOFF Plan II adequately convey the effect of the amendment in compliance with article II, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution. We conclude it does not.

(3) Does the title to the 1992 amendment to LEOFF Plan II comply with section II, article 37 of the Washington State Constitution which prohibits an act from being revised by "mere reference to its title." We conclude it does not.

(4) And, finally, we must decide whether the Industrial Insurance Act's bar against suing an employer prohibits Deputy Fray's suit despite "the right to sue" granted to LEOFF Plan II members? We conclude it does not.

We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Legislative History. In 1969, Washington enacted LEOFF. The act provides a comprehensive system of benefits for police officers and fire fighters. In 1971, the Legislature amended the act to provide more generous benefits. One of the additional benefits conferred was the right to sue an employer for negligence the "right to sue" provision. *fn1

In 1977, the Legislature amended LEOFF to restrict certain benefits provided to law enforcement officers and fire fighters employed after September 30, 1977. *fn2 It did so by creating two classes of members. Plan I included those members employed on or before September 30, 1977. Plan II included those members employed after that date. *fn3 The Plan I benefits remained the same. Plan II benefits were reduced. However, Plan II members became eligible for industrial insurance benefits (RCW 51). *fn4

The 1977 amendments listed those benefits which applied to Plan I members only in separate sections. *fn5 That list did not include the "right to sue." LEOFF was again amended in 1979, 1985 and 1989. *fn6 The 1979 and 1985 amendments did not change the "right to sue" provision. The 1989 amendment provided the actual labels for the two plans Plan I and Plan II. It further clarified what benefits and provisions applied to each plan.

In 1991, the Legislature reorganized LEOFF into three parts: (1) laws applicable to Plan I members, (2) laws applicable to Plan II members, and (3) laws applicable to Plan I and Plan II members. *fn7 The 1991 amendment assigned the "right to sue" ...


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