ROBERT E. LARSON; TYLER W. GASSMAN; and, PAUL E. STATLER, Appellants,
STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent.
Larson, Tyler Gassman, and Paul Statler were wrongly
convicted of crimes and spent roughly four years in prison
before their convictions were vacated and the charges against
them were dismissed. They later established their right to
assert a claim under Washington's "Wrongfully
Convicted Persons Act" (WCPA), chapter 4.100 RCW, which
provides damages to a wrongly convicted individual based on
years of incarceration, damage-based attorney fees, and
certain costs. The three men also filed a federal lawsuit
against Spokane County and two of its law enforcement
officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the Section 1983
action). They reached a $2.25 million settlement against the
defendants in that lawsuit at around the same time they
established their rights under the WCPA.
issue is whether their judgment for money damages under the
WCPA remained viable after the three men settled the Section
1983 action. Given the operative provisions of the WCPA and
the legislative intent that its remedies and compensation be
exclusive, we hold that their judgment for WCPA compensation
no longer remained viable. The superior court's order
vacating the judgment is affirmed.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
2008, Messrs. Larson, Gassman, and Statler (the plaintiffs)
were arrested in connection with a Spokane robbery. At their
trial in February 2009, they presented alibi evidence. A jury
nonetheless found each guilty of first degree robbery, first
degree assault, and drive-by shooting. Each was sentenced to
more than 20 years of incarceration. They began serving their
sentences in July 2009.
2012, the superior court granted their CrR 7.8 motion for
relief from judgment, finding they had received ineffective
assistance from trial counsel, who failed to investigate
potentially exculpatory evidence. Their convictions were
vacated and they were released from prison. Rather than retry
them, the State dismissed the charges against them in May and
2013, the Washington Legislature enacted the WCPA. Laws of
2013, ch. 175. It became effective on July 28, 2013, and
afforded individuals wrongly convicted before that date a
three year period within which to file suit. Id. at
§ 9 (codified at RCW 4.100.090). It expressly addresses
its relationship to other civil remedies that a wrongly
convicted person might have. As more fully examined below, it
states the intent of the legislature that WCPA remedies and
compensation "be exclusive to all other remedies at law
and in equity" against the state and its political
subdivisions. Id. at § 8 (codified at RCW
4.100.080). It effectuates that intent by requiring that a
WCPA claimant (1) waive other remedies against the state and
certain state actors related to the claimant's wrongful
conviction and imprisonment, including remedies under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, (2) execute a legal release before
receiving payment of any WCPA compensation, and (3) reimburse
the State in whole or in part if the claimant's release
is held invalid and the claimant later recovers a tort award.
January 2014, the plaintiffs brought this action, asserting
claims for compensation under the WCPA. At the conclusion of
a 2015 bench trial, the superior court concluded they had not
met their burden of proof and entered judgment in favor of
the State. The plaintiffs appealed. While the State appeal
was pending, the plaintiffs filed suit in federal court
against Spokane County and two of its law enforcement
officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
2016, this court held that the superior court had applied too
high a burden of proof on the plaintiffs in certain respects,
and remanded for the court to reconsider the required element
of actual innocence. Larson v. State, 194 Wn.App.
722, 725, 375 P.3d 1096 (2016).
County responded to this court's revival of the
plaintiffs' WCPA claim by moving the federal district
court to dismiss the Section 1983 action, citing the
WCPA's "exclusive remedy" and waiver language.
Reading RCW 4.100.080(1) as a whole, the federal district
court construed it as allowing concurrent actions, even
though "'[p]laintiffs must execute a legal release
of all their other claims, including § 1983 claims,
prior to the payment of compensation under the
WCPA.'" Clerk's Papers (CP) at 59 (boldface and
underscore omitted). Accordingly, the Section 1983 action
proceeded, as did the WCPA claim.
April 2017, after applying the law as clarified by this
court, the superior court concluded that the plaintiffs were
entitled to recover under the WCPA. The WCPA provides that a
wrongfully convicted individual is entitled to $50, 000.00
per year of actual incarceration, attorney fees capped at the
lesser of 10 percent of the claimant's damages or $75,
000, costs, and any child support payments that went unpaid
due to a claimant's incarceration. RCW 4.100.060(5)(a),
(c), (e). The superior court determined that the plaintiffs
were entitled to $710, 697.70 in WCPA damages, $78, 380.06 in
attorney fees and costs, and that Mr. Larson was entitled to
$1, 299.97 in unpaid child support payments.
mid-June 2017, the plaintiffs moved the court to enter
judgment for their WCPA remedies. The State opposed the
motion, notifying the superior court that it had learned on
June 26 that the plaintiffs had settled their Section 1983
claims for a total of $2.5 million. The State also
represented that the settlement had been paid, but admitted
relying only on hearsay. It argued that having obtained a
federal remedy against Spokane County and its officers, the
plaintiffs could not recover compensation under the WCPA.
superior court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs,
as requested. Although a transcript of the hearing has not
been made a part of the record, the superior court would
later explain that in entering the judgment, it had
attempted to emphasize the distinction between obtaining a
judgment versus enforcing a judgment. [When the judgment was
entered], the plaintiffs hadn't been compensated on their
[Section] 1983 claim or there was no evidence that they'd
been compensated under their [Section] 1983 claim. Rather,
they had just settled the claim. The language consistently
used in RCW 4.100 relates to being compensated rather than
just making other claims.
of Proceedings (RP) at 31-32. The superior court later
explained that at the time it agreed to enter judgment,
I found that the plaintiffs were entitled to a judgment
because they had met all the requirements of the statute and
there was no evidence that they'd been compensated on
another claim. I then predicted everyone would be back when
the plaintiffs try to enforce the judgment if they get
compensated on their [Section] 1983 claims.
Id. at 32. To ensure the State's ability to
return to court if the plaintiffs received the federal
settlement and then took steps to collect the Washington
judgment as well, the judgment provided that
"[p]laintiffs shall notify [the State's attorneys]
at least 14 days in advance of seeking payment from the
State." CP at 105.
August 2017, the plaintiffs sought payment of the state court
judgment, moving the superior court to direct the clerk of
court to furnish a certified copy of the judgment to the
Washington Office of Risk Management. The State opposed their
motion and obtained an order to show cause why the court
should not vacate the judgment under CR 60(b). This time, the
State provided a copy of the Washington Counties Risk Pool
check in payment of the settlement amount, which turned out
to be $2.25 million.
a hearing on the cross motions, the superior court denied the
plaintiffs' motion and granted the State's, vacating
the plaintiffs' money judgment. The plaintiffs appeal.
Fairly read, the WCPA conditions compensation on a wrongly
convicted person's ability to provide an effective waiver
and legal release ...