The Washington Supreme Court sided with the state insurance regulators Thursday in a case involving a Kitsap County insurance agency, Land Title Co., that was a contracted agent for Chicago Title. The court said in a 6-to-2 decision that Chicago Title was liable for the illegal actions by its agent, which had given out inducements including Seattle Seahawks playoff tickets in its efforts to secure business referrals.
Insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office says the illegal wining and dining of real estate agencies, builders and mortgage lenders was meant to steer title-insurance business to the firm.
The court’s ruling, authored by Justice Charles Wiggins, is here.
Kreidler put out a news release on the ruling, calling it was a “big win for consumers."
“Chicago Title’s arguments were contrary to a century of insurance law,” Kreidler said in his news release. “In order to effectively regulate insurers and protect consumers, it’s important to hold insurers responsible for the actions of their agents.”
His office had entered into a consent agreement with Chicago Title in 2009 in which the company agreed to pay a $48,334 if it did not prevail in court over actions in 2006-7 by Land Title Co., based in Kitsap County.
Justice Jim Johnson filed a dissent (at the bottom of this linked page) and was joined by Justice Susan Owens in arguing that, in effect, the court majority was reaching too far to impose "vicarious" liability on a firm that had no contractual control over it's agent's marketing.
"If OIC wishes to fine an entity for Land Title's noncompliance, it is free to do so. It must simply go after Land Title directly," Johnson wrote. Johnson also suggested the money spent on inducements was relatively minor compared to taxpayer costs for the case.
"We felt the problem was best addressed by taking action against the insurer," OIC spokesman Rich Roesler said.Roesler said two other cases are pending against insurers that also offered inducements to third parties in the same way. Those cases had been on hold awaiting resolution of this case.
An environmental review of a proposed coal-export facility at Cherry Point will take into account pollutants emitted by the facility, rail traffic carrying coal to the facility, and also the impact on greenhouse gases from coal burning in China, India and other export destinations. The scope of environmental review was announced Wednesday by the Department of Ecology, Whatcom County and Army Corps of Engineers, which are co-leading the environmental review.
The broad look at “end use” impacts of off-shore coal burning is unprecedented for Ecology, which alone is insisting on that review under its administering of the State Environmental Policy Act. Gov. Jay Inslee was briefed on the agency’s plans, an Ecology spokesman told reporters during a telephone press conference Wednesday at which officials explained the scoping decisions.
Environmentalists critical of the Gateway Pacific Terminal’s deep-water wharf project say they are not aware of any other such project around the country getting such off-site scrutiny. But they say two coal-export proposals in Washington – at Cherry Point and Longview – and the extensive rail traffic needed to bring coal from Wyoming for export are deserving of high level reviews.
Muffy Walker, the Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory branch chief, told reporters during the telephone press conference that overseas burning of coal and assessment of regional rail impacts were outside the purview of the National Environmental Policy Act that is guiding the Corps’ environmental review of the project. The Corps’ look will be focused more on the facility’s emissions and localized impacts at the three-berth wharf and at BNSF rail’s Custer Spur Line serving the facility.
The announcement by the government agencies – identified as the co-leads for the national and state environmental reviews – drew quick criticism from those who want to ship coal by rail through Washington to port facilities for export to Asia. The Gateway Pacific project is backed by coal and rail interests, and it is one of three major export projects on the table in Longview and Oregon.
“Today’s announcement represents an unprecedented treatment of rail and exports in Washington state and could have far-reaching repercussions that should concern anyone who cares about trade,” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, an industry-dominated group. “This decision has the potential to alter the Northwest’s long and historic commitment to expanding trade, which today supports 4 in every 10 jobs in Washington state.”
A news release from the alliance included statements from the National Association of Manufacturers, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Association of Washington Business, the United Transportation Union’s Washington State Legislative Board and the Washington Farm Bureau.
The scoping announcement on the EIS drew praise from environmental groups that also favor a comprehensive look at rail traffic involving coal shipments through Washington communities.
“This scope is a reflection of Northwest values – the depth and breadth of the scope is absolutely on target and appropriate given the impacts this project would have on our way of life,” said Cesia Kearns, campaign director for the Power Past Coal campaign, in a news release issued by the Washington Environmental Council.
Power Past Coal is a coalition that lists more than 100 “businesses, health experts, community organizations and environmental and faith groups” in its membership.
“I applaud Washington’s leadership for using the full scope of their authority to examine this project carefully and urge Oregon to do the same. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel by far and we need fully evaluate what coal export would cost Northwest communities,” Kearns’ statement added.
Josh Baldi, a regional administrator for Ecology who had served as the WEC lobbyist in Olympia before going to DOE, said the EIS process could take two years. He indicated the scoping decision cannot be appealed.
The state Court of Appeals has ruled that the state Department of Licensing wrongfully withheld records from a prison inmate in 2009 and should pay penalties to the man for its violation of the Public Records Act.
At issue was Derek Gronquist’s request under the Public Records Act for the business license application filed for Maureen’s House Cleaning, a business. Gronquist was held at the prison in Monroe at the time of his July 2009 records request.
In the decision authored by newly retired Judge Marywave Van Deren, the court on Tuesday ordered the case back to Thurston County Superior Court for imposition of unspecified fines of $5 to $100 per day (the penalties in law at the time of the withholding). State law gives an agency five days to respond to a records request and the agency took eight days on this one – not counting the additional months days that its wrongful redaction of information caused details sought by Gronquist to be withheld.
DOL’s response was weak in many ways. As outlined by Judge Van Deren’s ruling, Licensing first failed to respond within five days of the request. Then it blacked out information from documents it did release, even though none of it was legally exempt from disclosure; the agency also failed to cite a legal basis for those redactions, which is a second cause for imposing penalties, the judge said.
Judge Paula Casey, who since retired from the Thurston County court, then failed to let Gronquist file three depositions with the court that he’d taken to support his case. Casey also reviewed the redacted information and decided that DOL had not improperly withheld records. The appellate ruling makes allowance for Gronquist to ask the lower court to have those depositions added to the file.
Since the legal case began, the business-license records in question are now kept by another agency, Department of Revenue.
Licensing also has changed its procedures, according to Licensing spokeswoman Christine Anthony.
“We work very hard to balance the public’s access to our records with protecting our licensee’s right to privacy. We will continue to work with our attorneys to resolve this case," Anthony said in a written response to a query from The Olympian. "Since this case was filed, we have centralized our public disclosure staff and processes to ensure experts are managing all public disclosure requests.”
Although those changes were made after Gronquist’s lawsuit, they were not spurred by it. Anthony said the changes were part of “a larger reorganization of agency to better serve the public and increase efficiency.’’
The appellate court is retaining jurisdiction on one element of the case – in order to to decide at a future date how much the state must pay for the inmate’s court costs. Also signing the decision were Division II Judges Lisa Worswick and Christine Quinn-Brintnall.
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