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Rumburg v. Ferry County Public Utility District #1

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

November 16, 2017

WILLIAM RUMBURG and CAROL RUMBURG, husband and wife and the marital community comprised thereof, Appellants,
v.
FERRY COUNTY PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT #1, A PUBLIC UTILITY COMPANY; and JOHN DOE(S), Respondents.

          PANEL: Judges Siddoway, Pennell, Korsmo.

         ORDER WITHDRAWING OPINION

          GEORGE B. FEARING, Chief Judge.

         THE COURT on its own motion finds that the opinion filed November 16, 2017, should be withdrawn. Therefore, IT IS ORDERED, the court's opinion filed November 16, 2017, is hereby withdrawn and a new opinion will be filed this day.

          SIDDOWAY, J.

         At issue is whether William and Carol Rumburg timely filed suit under tolling and grace periods provided by RCW 4.96.020, the local government tort claim filing statute. After serving a second notice of claim on local government defendants and allowing 60 days for the defendants to respond, the Rumburgs relied on the statutory 5-day grace period in filing suit. The respondents contend that the 5-day grace period could apply only after the Rumburgs' first, early, notice of claim.

         In resolving reasonable questions about how the tolling provision operates, the Washington Supreme Court has provided a bright-line clarification, repeated several times in published decisions, that the tolling provision adds 60 days to the end of the otherwise applicable statute of limitations. Given this construction of the statute and its 2009 amendment requiring procedural requirements to be "liberally construed so that substantial compliance will be deemed satisfactory, " we construe RCW 4.96.020(4) to apply the 5-day grace period after the 60-day extension of the statute of limitations. The Rumburgs' action was timely.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 16, 2012, William Rumburg suffered injuries at an event in Republic City Park from the collapse of a tent set up by Ferry County Public Utility District No. 1 (PUD). Mr. Rumburg submitted a handwritten notice of tort claim to the PUD on November 30, 2012.

         Nearly two and a half years later, on June 28, 2015, the Rumburgs had their first consultation with their current lawyer. The lawyer, unaware of the earlier notice of tort claim, filed a second notice of claim on July 14, 2015. Sixty-three days later, on September 15, 2015, he filed a summons and complaint.

         The PUD eventually filed a motion to dismiss the Rumburgs' action as time barred, based on the more than 3 year and 60 day passage of time between Mr. Rumburg's July 16, 2012 injury and the September 15, 2015 commencement of the lawsuit.[1] The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. The Rumburgs appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         In chapter 4.96 RCW, the legislature has waived the sovereign immunity of local government entities and their officers, employees or volunteers, but has required that "[f]iling a claim for damages within the time allowed by law shall be a condition precedent to the commencement of any action claiming damages." RCW 4.96.010(1). After a notice of a tort claim is presented to a local government defendant, the plaintiff must wait until 60 days have elapsed before commencing a lawsuit. RCW 4.96.020(4). "The purpose of this claim is 'to allow government entities time to investigate, evaluate, and settle claims' before they are sued." Renner v. City of Marysville, 168 Wn.2d 540, 545, 230 P.3d 569 (2010) (quoting Medina v. Pub. Util. Dist. No. 1 of Benton County, 147 Wn.2d 303, 310, 53 P.3d 993 (2002)).

         The notice of claim requirement would effectively shorten the limitations period for tort claims against local government defendants by 60 days were it not for parallel language in RCW ...


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