superior courts are courts of general jurisdiction-most
claims, on most subjects, valued at most any amount, can be
decided there. Washington's district courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction-only a subset of claims, on a subset of
subjects, with $100, 000 or less in controversy for civil
cases, can be decided there.
Banowsky filed her claim for medical malpractice in district
court on the last day of the statute of limitations. She
sought over $100, 000. District courts can exercise
jurisdiction over medical malpractice claims, but they cannot
exercise jurisdiction over claims seeking over $100, 000.
CRLJ 14A(b), however, directs district courts to
"remove[ ]," or transfer, a case to superior court
when "any party" "asserts a claim in an amount
in excess of the jurisdiction of the district court or seeks
a remedy beyond the jurisdiction of the district court."
This case is about the meaning and validity of that rule.
that CRLJ 14A(b) validly and unambiguously required the
district court to transfer Banowsky's case to superior
court. We therefore reverse the decision of the Court of
Factual and Procedural Background
Proceedings in District Court
final day of the statute of limitations, Banowsky, acting pro
se, filed a medical malpractice claim against her
chiropractor, Guy Backstrom, in King County District Court.
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 105-07. Banowsky sought
"actual compensatory damages in an amount exceeding
$100, 000.00, together with attorney's fees, court costs,
and whatever other damages deemed appropriate by the
Court." Id. at 107.
and a half later, an attorney appeared on Banowsky's
behalf and moved to transfer the case to superior court.
Id. at 101, 95-96. Through counsel, Banowsky alleged
that she had been unaware of the $100, 000 "limitation
of damages in District Court." Id. at 95. She
argued that "[b]ecause the error was made in good faith,
[the] case should be transferred to Superior Court pursuant
to Rule CRLJ 14A(b)." Id. at 96.
14A(b) states, "When any party in good faith asserts a
claim in an amount in excess of the jurisdiction of the
district court or seeks a remedy beyond the jurisdiction of
the district court, the district court shall order the entire
case removed to superior court."
opposed transfer. Id. at 45-52. He did not dispute
Banowsky's good faith. Instead, he argued that "the
District Court has no authority to grant Plaintiffs motion
and enter an Order of Transfer because it lacks subject
matter jurisdiction over this claim." Id. at
explain CRLJ 14A(b)'s function, Backstrom pointed to the
drafters' comment to the proposal that amended the rule
into its current form. The comment states in part:
Plaintiffs can file in the district court knowing that if a
basis for claiming damages in excess of the jurisdictional
limit of the district court should arise after they have
filed their complaint, then they will have the opportunity to
transfer their case to the superior court.
amendment to CRLJ 14A(b), 150 Wn.2d Proposed-13 (Official
Advance Sheet No. 7, Jan. 6, 2004). On the basis of that
comment, Backstrom concluded that "if. . . Plaintiff
believed her damages were $50, 000 at the time of filing, but
later learned they were much more, CRLJ 14A would allow her
to remove the claim to Superior Court to seek damages in
excess of the jurisdictional limit." CP at 51. But
because Banowsky's claim exceeded the jurisdictional
limit from the start, Backstrom urged the court to dismiss.
Id. at 52.
countered that CRLJ 14A(b)'s history was immaterial to
its interpretation given the lack of any ambiguity in its
text, and the text required "remov[al]" or
transfer. Id. at 31-32. She continued that CRLJ
l4A(b)'s history really supported her position, not
Backstrom's. She pointed out that the comment on which
Backstrom relied actually referenced a prior version of the
drafters' proposed amendment to the rule. Id.;
see Bd. for Judicial Admin., Meeting Minutes (Jan. 24,
2003) at 3 [https://perma.cc/7VMW-FV3C]. The drafters did not
update the comment when they formally submitted a different
version of the proposed amendment-the one that ultimately
became CRLJ 14A(b) as it exists today-to this court.
briefing on those matters, the district court heard argument,
denied Banowsky's motion, and dismissed the case. CP at
Proceedings in Superior Court
appealed, renewing the same arguments. Id. at
111-20. Likewise, Backstrom reiterated his previous
arguments. Id. at 146-67. But Backstrom cited an
additional source of authority in support of those arguments:
CRLJ 12(h)(3). That rule states, "Whenever it appears .
. . that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter,
the court shall dismiss the action."
superior court heard argument and affirmed the district
court's dismissal. Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP)
at 1-19; CP at 170-71.
Proceedings in the Court of Appeals
moved the Court of Appeals for discretionary review. That
court granted limited review "to address the issues
raised by CRLJ 14A(b) and its relationship with other rules
and statutes, including CRLJ 12(h)(3) and CRLJ 82."
Notation Ruling, No. 76360-1-I, at 3 (Wash.Ct.App. May 31,
Court of Appeals then affirmed. Banowsky v.
Backstrom, 4 Wn.App. 2d 338, 421 P.3d 1030 (2018). That
court emphasized that the Washington Constitution gives the
legislature responsibility for determining the jurisdiction
of district courts and that the legislature has confined that
jurisdiction to claims seeking $100, 000 or less.
Id. at 344-46. It explained, "Because the
amount demanded exceeded the constitutionally based
amount-in-controversy limitation for district court, the
district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and its
only permissible action was dismissal." Id. at
346. In that court's view, the opposite conclusion
"would greatly undercut the [constitution's]
intentional divide [between district courts and superior
courts] to allow a plaintiff to ignore the district court
amount-in-controversy limitation and force a transfer even
though she demanded an amount over the district court
limit." Id. at 347.
Court of Appeals nonetheless reconciled CRLJ 14A(b) and CRLJ
12(h)(3) to sometimes give effect to CRLJ 14A(b) and
sometimes permit transfer. "Where a plaintiff properly
invokes the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court
by demanding relief that is within the amount-in-controversy
limit of the court, CRLJ 14A(b) can afterward be applied to
direct a transfer of the case to superior court. For example,
a plaintiff may later seek to remove the case to superior
court on the good faith belief that although her damages
initially were below the limit, they now appear to exceed the
subject matter jurisdiction of the district court."
Id. at 349. Thus, the Court of Appeals adopted
Backstrom's interpretation of the rule.
granted review. Banowsky v. Backstrom, 192 Wn.2d
Standard of Review
case involves issues of subject matter jurisdiction, rule
interpretation, and constitutional interpretation. We review
each of these legal issues de novo.
Assume That the District Court Lacked Subject Matter
Jurisdiction over Banowsky's Claim
matter jurisdiction' refers to a court's ability to
entertain a type of case......" In re Marriage of
Buecking, 179 Wn.2d 438, 448, 316 P.3d 999 (2013)
(citing ZDI Gaming, Inc. v. Wash. State Gambling
Comm'n, 173 Wn.2d 608, 618, 268 P.3d 929 (2012)). It
"is the power of a court to hear and determine a
case." State v. Lane, 112 Wn.2d 464, 468, 771
P.2d 1150 (1989) (citing State v. Hampson, 9 Wn.2d
278, 281, 114 P.2d 992 (1941); 20 Am. Jur. 2d Courts
§ 88, .at 449 (1965)). "A tribunal lacks subject
matter jurisdiction when it attempts to decide a type of
controversy over which it has no authority to
adjudicate." Marley v. Dep't of Labor &
Indus., 125 Wn.2d 533, 539, 886 P.2d 189 (1994). "A
lack of subject matter jurisdiction implies that [the
tribunal] has no authority to decide the claim at all, let
alone order a particular kind of relief." Id.
argues that the district court lacked subject matter
jurisdiction over Banowsky's claim. He relies on article
IV, section 10 of the Washington Constitution, which provides
that "[t]he legislature . . . shall prescribe by law the
powers, duties and jurisdiction [of the district
courts]." Under this provision, the legislature has
"sole authority to determine the jurisdiction and powers
of the district court." State v. Hastings, 115
Wn.2d 42, 49, 793 P.2d 956 (1990); see also
Young v. Konz, 91 Wn.2d 532, 542, 588 P.2d 1360
(1979) (stating that "the people, through our
constitution, have . . . authorized only the
legislature ... to prescribe the powers, duties and
jurisdiction of [district] courts"). To that end, the
legislature enacted RCW 3.66.020. That statute states that
"the district court shall have jurisdiction and
cognizance" of certain types of civil actions-of which
Banowsky's medical malpractice claim is one-but only
"[i]f, for each claimant, the value of the claim or the
amount at issue does not exceed one hundred thousand
dollars." Banowsky's claim sought more than $100,
parties therefore acknowledge that the district court lacked
jurisdiction over her case. Because our analysis does not
turn on the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, we
assume without deciding that they are correct.
14A(b) Required the District Court To Transfer the Case to
Superior Court Even If the District Court Lacked Subject
assuming that the district court lacked subject matter
jurisdiction, the district court still had the power-and the
obligation-under CRLJ l4A(b) to transfer the case to superior
court. That is because CRLJ 14A(b), not CRLJ 12(h)(3),
applies, and CRLJ 14A(b) is a constitutionally valid
procedural rule that abrogates 'the common-law rule of
dismissal in this situation.
Common Law Requires Dismissal of a Claim over Which a Court
Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction, but This Court Has
Recognized an Exception to the Common-Law Rule
courts generally follow the common-law rule "that a
court lacking jurisdiction of any matter may do nothing other
than enter an order of dismissal." Deschenes v. King
County, 83 Wn.2d 714, 716, 521 P.2d 1181 (1974) (citing
21 CJ.S. Courts § 118 (1940)), overruled in
part by Clark County Pub. Util Dist. No. 1 v. Wilkinson,
139 Wn.2d 840, 848 n.8, 991 P.2d 1161 (2000). This court has
repeated this "well known and universally
respected" rule several times. Id.; see Ralph v.
Dep't of Nat. Res., 182 Wn.2d 242, 255 n.4, 343 P.3d
342 (2014); Young v. Clark, 149 Wn.2d 130, 133, 65
P.3d 1192 (2003); Shoop v. Kittitas County, 149
Wn.2d 29, 35, 65 P.3d 1194 (2003); Crosby v. County of
Spokane, 137 Wn.2d 296, 301, 971 P.2d 32 (1999); In
re Adoption of Buehl, 87 Wn.2d 649, 655, 555 P.2d 1334
(1976). And as Backstrom points out, if the district court
lacked subject matter jurisdiction, this rule would support
the district court's dismissal below.
recognized an exception to this common-law rule in In re
Personal Restraint of Johnson, 131 Wn.2d 558, 933 P.2d
1019 (1997). Johnson concerned the subject matter
jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals, which, like the subject
matter jurisdiction of the district court, is set by statute.
Id. at 565-66; Wash. CONST, art. IV, §§
10, 30; RCW 2.06.030. The question in Johnson was
whether the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to resolve the
merits of certain personal restraint petitions. 131 Wn.2d at
565-66. We held that one statute divested the Court of
Appeals of subject matter jurisdiction over the petitions at
issue. Id. at 566 (interpreting RCW 10.73.140). But
we recognized that another statute gave the Court of Appeals
the power to transfer the petitions over which it lacked
subject matter jurisdiction to our court. Id. That
second statute stated, '"No case, appeal, or
petition for a writ filed in the supreme court or the [Court
of Appeals] shall be dismissed for the reason that it was not
filed in the proper court, but it shall be transferred to the
proper court.'" Id. (alteration in
original) (quoting RCW 2.06.030). Thus, by legislative
design, a court lacking the power to hear and determine a
case nonetheless had the power to transfer that case to the
reaffirmed that holding in In re Personal Restraint of
Perkins, 143 Wn.2d 261, 19 P.3d 1027 (2001). As in
Johnson, the nondismissal statute, RCW 2.06.030,
operated to prevent dismissal, even though the Court of
Appeals lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Mat 266. We
Clearly [petitioner] could have filed his [personal restraint
petition] directly in the Supreme Court at his election. Had
he done so we could not have transferred the petition to the
Court of Appeals pursuant to RAP 16.5 because we have
jurisdiction in this matter whereas the Court of Appeals does
not. Thus, [petitioner's] problem arises because he
initially filed his [petition] in the Court of Appeals rather
than in the Supreme Court. Is this fatal?
We think not because RCW 2.06.030 explicitly requires the
case . . . shall be transferred to the proper court.
Id. This court continues to adhere to that holding.
See, e.g., In re Pers. Restraint of Bell,
187 Wn.2d 558, 562, 387 P.3d 719 (2017) (per curiam); In
re Pers. Restraint of Adolph, 170 Wn.2d 556,
564, 243 P.3d 540 (2010); In re Pers. Restraint
of Fawcett, 147 Wn.2d 298, 301, 53 P.3d 972 (2002).
and Perkins guide the outcome of this case. Although
the district court may have lacked the power to hear and
determine Banowsky's claim under RCW 3.66.020, it did not
necessarily lack the power to transfer the
case. Following Johnson and
Perkins, the district court should have first
considered whether another enactment gave it power to
transfer and, if so, whether that enactment required the
court to exercise that power. See Bell, 187 Wn.2d at
562 ("We have ...