Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.
Case Number: 10006903
Court: Supreme court of Washington on certified question from the Western District of Washington (King county)
Defendant's Attorney: Robert Bertelson Mitchell, Jr., Todd Lawrence Nunn, Christopher Wyant and Peter B. Gonick
Description: Seattle, Washington civil litigation lawyers represented Plaintiffs, who sued defendants on a class action basis claiming that property or rights owned by them were taken in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
This certified question asks us to clarify the standards for
equitable tolling in civil cases under Washington law. The underlying federal case
involves a long-running dispute between a certified class of more than 25,000
Washington teachers (Teachers) and the Department of Retirement Systems (DRS).
The federal district court determined that while the Teachers have established a Fifth
Amendment takings claim, the applicable statute of limitations on that claim lapsed
several years before the Teachers filed this suit. The Teachers have asked the federal
district court to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling to allow the suit to proceed despite
the statute of limitations. Finding Washington law unclear, the federal district court
seeks clarification from this court as to the minimum predicates a plaintiff in a civil
action must establish to justify equitable tolling of the applicable statute of limitations.
We answer the certified question by reiterating the four conditions this court has
previously identified as necessary to justify equitable tolling of a statute of limitations
in the civil context. Washington law allows equitable tolling of a statute of limitations
in a civil suit when (1) the plaintiff has exercised diligence, (2) the defendant’s bad
faith, false assurances, or deception has interfered with the plaintiff’s diligent efforts,
(3) tolling is consistent with (a) the purpose of the underlying statute and (b) the purpose
of the statute of limitations, and (4) justice requires tolling the statute of limitations. See
Millay v. Cam, 135 Wn.2d 193, 206, 955 P.2d 791 (1998) (citing Finkelstein v. Sec.
Props., Inc., 76 Wn. App. 733, 739-40, 888 P.2d 161 (1995); Douchette v. Bethel
Sch. Dist. No. 403, 117 Wn.2d 805, 812, 818 P.2d 1362 (1991)).
Outcome: This standard appropriately balances the plaintiff’s interest in seeking justice
against the individual and societal interest in finality and the protection of defendants
against unfair surprise and stale claims. We reiterate that equitable tolling of statutes
of limitations in civil cases is appropriate only where these principles align. Any lesser
standard “would substitute for a positive rule established by the legislature a variable
rule of decision based upon individual ideas of justice.” Leschner, 27 Wn.2d at 926