issue in this case is whether a teacher's mandatory duty
under RCW 26.44.030(1)(a) to report to authorities when he or
she has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered
abuse or neglect applies to information obtained outside the
course of his or her employment as a teacher.
State charged Tanya James-Buhl, a junior high school teacher,
with three counts of failure to comply with the mandatory
reporting law for not reporting to law enforcement that her
daughters had disclosed that their stepfather had touched
them inappropriately. The trial court dismissed the charges,
ruling that RCW 26.44.030(1)(a) requires teachers to report
suspected child abuse only when they obtain information
regarding child abuse in the course of their employment. The
trial court ruled that RCW 26.44.030(1)(d), which requires
adults residing with children to report only when they have
reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered
"severe abuse" as defined in that subsection,
determined James-Buhl's obligation to report information
she obtained about her own children outside of her course of
that the plain language of RCW 26.44.030(1)(a), considered in
the context of other subsections in the statute that contain
explicit course of employment limitations, does not limit a
teacher's mandatory reporting duty to information about
child abuse obtained in the course of employment. We also
decline to consider James-Buhl's argument that she did
not have reasonable cause to believe her daughters had been
abused, which is the prerequisite for a mandatory reporting
duty. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's dismissal
of the charges against James-Buhl and remand for further
is a junior high school teacher. She was married to Joshua
Hodges, who was the stepfather of James-Buhl's daughters,
MEB, MMB, and KB.
May 2015, MEB's youth pastor made a report to Child
Protective Services that MEB had told James-Buhl that Hodges
had been touching her inappropriately. The youth pastor
stated that James-Buhl had not reported the abuse, but that
she was "handling things in the house." Clerk's
Papers at 1.
enforcement investigated and interviewed the three girls. MEB
described how Hodges had touched her inappropriately. She
also said she had told James-Buhl about the abuse in early
January, but nothing had changed. MMB said that Hodges had
touched her and that she had told James-Buhl about it. And KB
said that Hodges had touched her once every two to three
weeks and that she had told James-Buhl about it four or five
months before the August 2015 forensic interview.
State charged James-Buhl with three counts of failure to
comply with the mandatory reporting law, RCW 26.44.030(1)(a),
for not reporting suspected child abuse to law enforcement or
the Department of Social and Health Services when her
daughters disclosed that Hodges had touched them
inappropriately. The State did not allege that MEB, MMB, and
KB were James-Buhl's students or enrolled in the school
where James-Buhl taught.
moved to dismiss the charges with prejudice, arguing that RCW
26.44.030(1)(a) did not apply because her daughters were not
her students and that she learned about the alleged abuse in
her capacity as their mother and not as a teacher. James-Buhl
argued that she was subject to the different standards of
reporting provided in RCW 26.44.030(1)(d), which applies to
adults who live with children. James-Buhl did not argue in
the trial court that even if RCW 26.44.030(1)(a) applied,
dismissal was appropriate because she did not have reasonable
cause to believe that the children had been abused.
trial court agreed with James-Buhl that RCW 26.44.030(1)(d)
applied instead of RCW 26.44.030(1)(a) because James-Buhl did
not have a teacher relationship with MEB, MMB, and KB.
Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the charges against
James-Buhl with prejudice.
Course of Employment Limitation for Mandatory Reporting
State argues that the trial court erred by interpreting RCW
26.44.030(1)(a) to include an implied course of employment
limitation. The State asserts that the plain statutory
language requires mandatory reporters to report suspected
child abuse in all circumstances when there is reasonable
cause. We agree.
Principles of Statutory Interpretation
interpretation is a matter of law that we review de novo.
State v. Evans, 177 Wn.2d 186, 191, 298 P.3d 724
(2013). The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to
determine and give effect to the legislature's intent.
State v. Larson, 184 Wn.2d 843, 848, 365 P.3d 740
(2015). To determine legislative intent, we first look to the
plain language of the statute. Id. We consider the
language of the provision in question, the context of the
statute in which the provision is found, related provisions,
and the statutory scheme as a whole. Id.
plain meaning of a statute is unambiguous, we must apply that
plain meaning as an expression of legislative intent.
Id. We will not add language to an unambiguous
statute even if we believe that the legislature intended
something else but failed to express it adequately. State
v. Chester, 133 Wn.2d 15, 21, 940 P.2d 1374 (1997).
statute is ambiguous when it is subject to more than one
reasonable interpretation. Evans, 177 Wn.2d at
192-93. When a statute is ambiguous, we first attempt to
resolve any ambiguity and determine the legislature's
intent by considering principles of statutory construction,
legislative history, and relevant case law. State v.
Reeves, 184 Wn.App. 154, 158, 336 P.3d 105 (2014). If
these indications of legislative intent are insufficient to
resolve the ambiguity, we must apply the rule of lenity and
construe the statute in favor of the defendant. Id.
Language of RCW 26.44.030(1)
26.44.030(1) identifies certain people who have a mandatory
duty to report suspected child abuse and defines the scope of
that duty. The statute contains several subsections
that address different groups of people who have reporting
responsibilities. RCW 26.44.080 provides that anyone who is
required by RCW 26.44.030 to report abuse, "and who
knowingly fails to make, or fails to cause to be made, such
report, shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor."
26.44.030(1)(a) imposes a duty to report on numerous types of
people who regularly ...