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Lewis County v. State

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

December 17, 2013

Lewis County, Appellant,
v.
The State of Washington, Respondent

Page 551

Appeal from Thurston Superior Court. Docket No: 11-2-02260-6. Date filed: 08/01/2012. Judge signing: Honorable H Christopher Wickham.

Jonathan L. Meyer, Prosecuting Attorney, and J. David Fine, Deputy, for appellant.

Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General, and William Clark, Assistant, for respondent.

Authored by Jill M Johanson. Concurring: J. Robin Hunt, Lisa Worswick.

OPINION

Page 552

[178 Wn.App. 433] Johanson, J. --

¶ 1 Lewis County (County) appeals the trial court's order dismissing its declaratory judgment action without prejudice. The County argues that the trial court erred in dismissing its case because (1) it meets all four justiciable controversy elements under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA), chapter 7.24 RCW, and (2) in the alternative, it is a case of major public importance. We affirm because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the County's case, which neither meets the justiciable controversy elements nor presents an issue of major public importance.

FACTS

¶ 2 In October 2011, the County sought judgment declaring that the State, and not the County, bears civil liability for the official acts of Lewis County Superior Court judges, commissioners, juvenile court and juvenile detention staff, and other officers and employees (hereinafter Judicial Branch). The County alleged that from time to time, parties bring proceedings against it, claiming money damages and other relief due to acts of the Judicial Branch. In the past, the County was liable for such money damages, and the County sought a declaration that all future successful similar disputes be the State's financial responsibility. The [178 Wn.App. 434] County alleged that this case presented a question of great public importance to each of Washington's counties and to all people of Washington. The State responded that the County's case did not present a justiciable claim under the UDJA and alleged that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

¶ 3 The County then filed several declarations that explained how the superior court judges had handled proceedings involving the Judicial Branch in the past. [1] One declaration was from Vyrle Hill, Executive Director of the Washington Counties Risk Pool (Risk Pool), the County's insurance provider. Hill's declaration listed the claims and lawsuits submitted to the Risk Pool from 2000 through 2011 relating to actions of the Judicial Branch.

¶ 4 The State filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings under CR 12(c) and claimed lack of subject matter jurisdiction under CR 12(b)(1). The State argued that the judgment the County sought would reverse 123 years of established law and practice by relieving the County of all liability for the official acts of the Judicial Branch, and that this practice would be more proper for the

Page 553

legislature, not the court, to change if it desired. The State also argued that the court should dismiss the County's complaint because it asked the court to speculate about hypothetical fact patterns that may never arise, had not pleaded a justiciable controversy under the UDJA, and had not joined necessary parties. In response, the County argued that the State should be financially responsible for the Judicial Branch [178 Wn.App. 435] because the County is unable to control or direct the Judicial Branch's conduct, that its claim met all the UDJA's justiciability ...


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