A claim for unjust enrichment may be brought by a party to recover the value of a benefit retained even absent any contractual relationship, if fairness and justice require it. Young v. Young, 164 Wn.2d 477, 484, 191 P.3d 1258 (2008).
Unjust enrichment requires proof of three elements:
(1) the defendant receives a benefit;
(2) the received benefit is at the plaintiff's expense; and
(3) the circumstances make it unjust for the defendant to retain the benefit without payment. Young v. Young, 164 Wn.2d at 484-85.
An unjust enrichment claim is founded on notions of justice and equity. Young v. Young, 164 Wn.2d at 486.
There is nothing worse than an employer who accepts the labor of a worker and then refuses to pay the worker.
Under Washington law, all wages owed to a departing employee must be paid at the end of the next established pay period. This means employers have to pay departing employees all wages owed on the next regular pay day following the termination date.
Washington law defines the term "wages" as "compensation due to an employee by reason of employment.” This can include wages below the minimum wage, being forced work off the clock, overtime pay, hourly wages, salary, commissions as well as unused accrued PTO and vacation pay, and in some cases severance pay.
Workers in Washington State should know that the law is very pro-employee in this arena. In as recent case, one Washington court explained: "[Washington’s] wage statutes were enacted to prevent abuses by employers in the labor-management setting, and they reflect the legislature's strong policy in favor of payment of wages to employees. . . . The “‘fundamental purpose of the legislation, as expressed in both the title and body of the act, is to protect the wages of an employee against any diminution or deduction therefrom by rebating, underpayment, or false showing of overpayment of any part of such wages.’” . . . Thus, these wage statutes must be liberally construed to advance the legislature's intent to protect employee wages and assure payment." (Internal citations omitted).
By statute, employers who fail to pay wages owed to employees can be held liable to the employee for two times the amount of unpaid wages, plus the attorney fees the employee incurs pursuing the recovery of the unpaid wages.
Unpaid wage liability can attach to the company employer, and officers or agent of the employer. So, even if the company goes out of business and has no funds, the employee can recover unpaid wages from the company's officers and managers.
Washington employees are also protected from retaliation if they speak up to their employer to enforce their rights.
If you are a worker in Washington that has not been paid all wages you are owed by your employer , contact Mark D. Walters.
The block quote below from Healy v. Seattle Rugby, LLC et al., (No. 79658-5-I (Nov. 23, 2020)) explains how courts perform contract interpretation in contract disputes.
The purpose of contract interpretation is to ascertain the intent of the parties. Roats v. Blakely Island Maint. Comm’n, Inc., 169 Wn. App. 263, 274, 279 P.3d 943 (2012). Washington courts “follow the objective manifestation theory of contracts.” Hearst Commc’ns, Inc. v. Seattle Times Co., 154 Wn.2d 493, 503, 115 P.3d 262 (2005). Under this approach, courts “focus on the agreement’s objective manifestations to ascertain the parties’ intent.” Martin v. Smith, 192 Wn. App. 527, 532, 368 P.3d 227 (2016). When considering the language of a written agreement, we “impute an intention corresponding to the reasonable meaning of the words used.” Hearst Commc’ns, Inc., 154 Wn.2d at 503 (citing Lynott v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 123 Wn.2d 678, 684, 871 P.2d 146 (1994)).
Yesterday, October 15, 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion in which it (again) shot down the Car Tabs Initiative as unconstitutional for violating the single issue rule. But the court did much more than that in a footnote. In footnote 1, on page 13, of yesterday's opinion, the court overruled a 1960 Washington State Supreme Court opinion that upheld a cemetery's refusal to allow Black parents to bury their stillborn child in the all-white "Babyland" section of the largest Seattle cemetery. This was long overdue, but Washington's High Court went even further by calling out prior Justice Joseph A. Mallery by name for his racist concurring opinion, "which condemns civil rights and integration."
Here's the text from footnote 1:
We take this opportunity to overrule this court’s opinion in Price v. Evergreen Cemetery Co. of Seattle, 57 Wn.2d 352, 357 P.2d 702 (1960). We may overrule a prior case when it is both incorrect and harmful. Deggs v. Asbestos Corp., 186 Wn.2d 716, 727-28, 381 P.3d 32 (2016) (quoting In re Rights to Waters of Stranger Creek, 77 Wn.2d 649, 653, 466 P.2d 508 (1970)). Price is both. Price considered the constitutionality of a 1953 law that said, “It shall be unlawful for any cemetery under this act to refuse burial to any person because such person may not be of the Caucasian race.” LAWS OF 1953, ch. 290, § 53, at 838. Section 53 was part of a larger bill with the title “AN ACT relating to the regulation of cemeteries.” Id., ch. 290. The majority concluded the bill had two subjects in violation of article II, section 19: “(1) civil rights, and (2) the endowment care funds of private cemeteries and the creation of a cemetery board.” Price, 57 Wn.2d at 354. This was a strained and incorrect way to divide the subjects in the bill, all of which were germane to the subject of cemetery regulation. It is harmful for two reasons: first, because it suggests a more stringent standard than is required to survive an article II, section 19 challenge, second, and more importantly, the case is harmful because of Justice Mallery’s concurrence, which condemns civil rights and integration. Id. at 355-58. “As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing black lives.” Letter from the Wash. State Supreme Court to the Members of the Judiciary and the Legal Cmty. 1 (June 4, 2020) (addressing racial injustice). The Price concurrence is an example of the unfortunate role we have played.
I include a link where interested readers can download Price v. Evergreen Cemetery Co. of Seattle to read for themselves this clear example of institutional racism and its racist concurring opinion by Justice Mallery, whom history will rightly condemn as a racist. If you need more proof of institutional racism in America, read the dissenting opinion of Justice Mallery, who sat on the Washington State Supreme Court from 1942 to 1962, in Browning v. Slenderella Sys. of Seattle, 54 Wn.2d 440, 341 P.2d 859 (1959).
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Parties in a lawsuit generally have 20-days to file a response to a Complaint after being served. If the party misses this deadline, they are at risk of their adversary filing a Motion for Default for failure to respond. However, even if the Motion for Default is filed and granted, the party in default does have an opportunity to file a Motion to Set Aside the Order of Default. You must act immediately to meet the legally required deadlines, and you should consult and hire counsel to help with this important step.
The block quote below explains the standards for how courts review a Motion to Set Aside a Default Order.
Washington generally disfavors default judgments because “[w]e prefer to give parties their day in court and have controversies determined on their merits.”7 CR 55 provides that “if a judgment by default has been entered, [the trial court] may likewise set it aside in accordance with rule 60(b).”8 CR 60(b) lists 11 grounds upon which a party may seek relief from judgment. While Era Living did not specifically identify the grounds upon which it sought relief, the relevant basis appears to be CR 60(b)(1) “[m]istakes, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect or irregularity in obtaining a judgment or order.”
There has been a lot of talk in the news about "qualified immunity" and how it protects police officers accused of violent misconduct. Thus, i thought I would offer a long block quote from a Washington court opinion that explains and applies the law of qualified immunity. The following quote derives from Gallegoas v. Freeman, 172 Wn.App. 616 (2013).
¶1 Qualified immunity shields a government official from liability for money damages in a lawsuit asserting the violation of a federal civil right unless the plaintiff pleads facts demonstrating that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. A right is “clearly established” only where existing precedent has resolved the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate—the contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that every reasonable official in the circumstances presented would have understood that the official's conduct violated that right.
Employees in Washington owe their employers a duty of loyalty and can be held liable for breaching this duty of loyalty. Below is quote from case that explains and describes this employee duty of loyalty. I left the case citations in the quote for my lawyer and law student readers.
Our courts have acknowledged the duties involved in employee-employer and principal-agent relationships. See Smith v. Olympic Bank, 103 Wn.2d 418, 423, 693 P.2d 92 (1985) ("In Von Gohren [v. Pacific Nat'l Bank, 8 Wn. App. 245, 505 P.2d 467 (1973)], it was held that a bank had notice that an employee was breaching her fiduciary duty when it allowed her to deposit third party checks payable to her employer in her personal account."); Moon v. Phipps, 67 Wn.2d 948, 954-55, 411 P.2d 157 (1966) (The "loyalty demanded of an agent . . . creates a duty in the agent to deal with his principal's property solely for his principal's benefit in all matters connected with the agency."); Organon, Inc. v. Hepler, 23 Wn. App. 432, 436, 595 P.2d 1314 (1979) ("[T]he method used by the defendant in pursuing his work for Phone-a-Gram amounts to a breach of his implied duty of loyalty to his principal."); Appleway Leasing, Inc. v. Tomlinson Dairy Farms, Inc., 22 Wn. App. 781, 783, 591 P.2d 1220 (1979) ("[A]n agent breaches his fiduciary duty to his principal if he sells to a third party at too low a price something which he is otherwise authorized to sell.").
Some contracts include a "one-sided attorneys' fee clause." You will often find these in contracts where there is unequal bargaining power such as leases, consumer financing contracts and telecom contracts.
A one-sided attorneys fee clause only allows one party (the party with the weaker bargaining power) to recover attorneys' fees and costs in the case of a dispute and reads something like this:
"The Company may institute immediate action to enforce the payment of charges due and owing it, including the pursuit of all remedies available in law or equity. Customer will be responsible for paying any collection and attorney fees reasonably incurred by the Company in seeking payments owed by Customer."
Not so fast.
Under Washington law, courts are required to treat these one-sided attorneys' clauses as reciprocal with the award of attorneys fees going to the prevailing party regardless of what the contract says:
So, in the event your contract includes a one-sided attorneys fee clause, just know that the court is required to award attorneys fees and costs to you regardless of this unfair contractual term being a part of your contract.
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What follows is an extended "copy and paste" quote from the (or one of) the leading cases in Washington that discusses the Frustration of Purpose/Impracticality Doctrine. The case cite is noted below.
Metropolitan Park Dist. v. Griffith, 106 Wn.2d 425, 723 P.2d 1093 (1986) recognized the defense of impossibility, citing Thornton v. Interstate Sec. Co., 35 Wn. App. 19, 666 P.2d 370, review denied, 100 Wn.2d 1015 (1983) which in turn cited Liner v. Armstrong Homes of Bremerton, Inc., 19 Wn. App. 921, 579 P.2d 367 (1978), as well as Restatement of Contracts §§ 454, 455, and 457 (1932). Restatement (Second) of Contracts (1981) has rewritten these sections and those pertinent here are as follows:
Source: Wash. State Hop Producers Liquidation Trust v. Goschie Farms, 51 Wn.App, 484, 477-491 (1988).
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