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Maziar v. Department of Corrections

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

April 30, 2015

Scott Walter Maziar , Respondent ,
v.
The Department of Corrections et al. , Petitioners

Argued March 10, 2015.

Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General, Patricia Todd and Michael Lynch, Managing Assistants, and Jeffrey Even, Assistant, for petitioners.

Karl E. Dickman (of E. Dickman Law Firm ), for respondent.

AUTHOR: Justice Susan Owens. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Justice Steven C. González, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Justice Mary I. Yu.

OPINION

[183 Wn.2d 85] Susan Owens, J.

¶ 1 Scott Walter Maziar sustained injuries while on board a ferry operated by the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC). Since Maziar was injured at sea, he

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brought a general maritime negligence claim against the DOC. He initially requested a jury trial, but he moved to strike his demand because he thought that no jury trial right existed for general maritime negligence cases. The DOC objected, but the trial court agreed with Maziar, struck his jury request, and awarded him damages after a bench trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on the jury trial issue but on different grounds. It held that although a jury trial right generally applies to general maritime negligence actions in state court, the State does not have a constitutional or statutory jury trial right in tort actions.

¶ 2 This case requires us to determine whether the State has a jury trial right in tort actions. We hold that it does. Several statutes read together demonstrate that the legislature meant to treat the State as if it were a private party with regard to matters of civil procedure and confer on any party (including the State) the right to have a jury determine [183 Wn.2d 86] most matters of fact. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand for a jury trial.

FACTS

¶ 3 Maziar worked as a prison guard for the DOC at the McNeil Island Corrections Center, and he used a DOC-operated ferry to get to and from work. After getting off work one day, Maziar went to the ferry's upper deck and sat down on a bench. He propped his feet on a loose chair, " leaned back, and closed his eyes." Suppl. Clerk's Papers at 348. The ferry captain observed Maziar and " yanked the chair out from ... Maziar's feet." Id. Maziar fell, injuring his " back, left ankle, knee, left shoulder and wrist." Id. at 349. The ferry captain told Maziar, " 'I am not an asshole, just don't block the walkway.'" Id.

¶ 4 Maziar brought a general maritime law negligence claim against the DOC. The trial court granted the DOC's summary judgment motion to dismiss the case, concluding that the Industrial Insurance Act, Title 51 RCW, and sovereign immunity precluded Maziar's claim. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for trial, holding that Maziar's claims were not barred by the Industrial Insurance Act or sovereign immunity. Maziar v. Dep't of Corr., 151 Wn.App. 850, 852, 216 P.3d 430 (2009).

¶ 5 On remand, Maziar moved to strike his jury demand, arguing that there is no right to a jury trial in maritime tort cases. The trial court granted Maziar's motion over the DOC's objection.

¶ 6 The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that although a jury trial right generally applies in general maritime negligence actions in state court, the State does not have a constitutional or statutory jury trial right in civil actions. Maziar v. Dep't of Corr., 180 Wn.App. 209, 225, 234, 327 P.3d 1251 (2014). First, the court concluded that the State does not have a constitutional jury trial right because article I of the Washington Constitution " 'is a source of individual [183 Wn.2d 87] protection'" that grants individuals, not the State, a jury trial right. Id. at 226 (quoting Robert F. Utter & Hugh D. Spitzer, The Washington State Constitution: A Reference Guide 15 (2002)). Second, the court concluded that the legislature could not have intended to grant the State a statutory jury trial right when it passed two territorial statutes dealing with jury trials because when those statutes were enacted, " there was no State of Washington." Id. at 231. The court further reasoned that the territorial statutes could not have been intended to grant the State a jury trial right because sovereign governments ...


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