Hanson v. Gonzalez Carmona et al.-March 23, 2023 Slip Opinion No. 99823-0
Hanson v. Gonzalez Carmona et al.
March 23, 2023 Slip Opinion No. 99823-0
The Washington State Supreme Court recently affirmed the Court of Appeals decision that a RCW 4.96.020(4), a presuit claims notice statute under which one must provide local governmental entities with notice of an alleged claim 60 days before filing the claim, applies when a plaintiff sues a governmental employee acting in the scope of her employment, in her individual capacity.
The case arises from a car accident in which Ms. Gonzalez Carmona (“Gonzalez”) ran a red light and hit Kylie Hanson’s (“Plaintiff”) car. At the time of the accident, Gonzalez was driving home from a work training, driving a vehicle owned by her employer and a government entity, Southeast Washington Office of Aging and Long Term Care (“SEW ALTC”).
Plaintiff filed a complaint against Gonzalez and SEW ALT (collectively “Defendants”) under a theory of vicarious liability alleging that Gonzalez was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff did not comply with RCW 4.96.020(4)’s presuit notice requirements to sue a government entity or its employees for tortious conduct and the statute of limitations had run. Under RCW 4.96.020(4), “[n]o action subject to the claim filing requirements of this section shall be commenced against any local governmental entity, or against any local governmental entity’s officers, employees, or volunteers, acting in such capacity, for damages arising out of tortious conduct until sixty calendar days have elapsed after the claim has first been presented to the agent of the governing body thereof.”
Plaintiff then amended her complaint to dismiss the claims against SEW ALTC and the allegations that she acting in the scope of her employment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of SEW ALTC but allowed the case to proceed forward against Gonzalez in her individual capacity. The trial court certified the partial summary judgment order for discretionary review in the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed and Plaintiff appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court.
The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision, holding that the plain language of the statute encompasses acts within the scope of employment and the government entity, not the employee, is bound by any judgment, even if not technically sued. Accordingly, the legislature can require presuit notice for employee acts committed within the scope of employment.
This case clarified whether the presuit claim notice statute applies to individuals who are acting in their individual capacity versus their official capacity (i.e., essentially as personification of the government). A classic example of working in an official capacity is a suit against the attorney general challenging a ballot title. The majority opinion reasoned that the determinative fact is whether the individual is within the scope of their employment, regardless of the act being performed by the employee. This is a significant ruling, as re-affirms the requirement that lawsuits brought against local government entities and their employees can only be brought after providing presuit notice and also safeguards employees who are acting with the scope of their employment.