From the Desk of Kyle Riley: In this case, the Washington Court of Appeals held (1) that in determining whether a civil action is subject to mandatory arbitration, the court must consider whether the claim of either party exceeds the $50,000 arbitration limit and (2) that a request to file a post-judgment warrant of abatement does not preclude mandatory arbitration.
Claims Pointer: Arbitration can serve as an efficient alternative to trial. In order to encourage arbitration, Washington requires claims that seek less $50,000 or less in damages to be arbitrated. If each claimant in an action individually seeks $50,000 or less, the claims are subject to arbitration.
Twitchell v. Kerrigan, in the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington, Division I, No. 68472-8-I, — P3d —-, (July 15, 2013).
In October of 2009, Mary Ann Kerrigan’s rottweiler attacked and killed a Yorkshire terrier owned by William and Deborah Twitchell. The Twitchells filed a lawsuit against Kerrigan, alleging nuisance, negligence, trespass and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In the lawsuit, William and Deborah each sought noneconomic damages for emotional distress, loss of use, and loss of enjoyment of life. The complaint also stated that the Twitchells intended to request a post-judgment warrant of abatement.
The Twitchells eventually filed a motion to transfer the case to mandatory arbitration, waving their right to request damages beyond the monetary limit of $50,000 for each claimant. The Twitchells argued that Washington’s mandatory arbitration statute allowed each party to assert a claim for damages of $50,000 and that a request for a post-judgment warrant of abatement did not preclude mandatory arbitration. The trial court refused to allow the case to be transferred to arbitration unless that Twitchells limited their total arbitration claim to no more than $50,000. The Twitchells appealed.
On appeal, the Twitchells argued that they are each entitled to assert a claim for damages up to the statutory limit of $50,000. They also argued that the intent to file a post-judgment motion for a warrant of abatement does not preclude mandatory arbitration.
On review, the Court of Appeals first evaluated the Twitchells’ arguments relating to the statutory claim limit. In evaluating those arguments, the Court turned to RCW 7.06.020, which states that all civil actions “where no party asserts a claim in excess of . . . [$50,000]” are subject to mandatory arbitration. The terms “action” and “claim” are not defined by the statute. However, in 2005’s Christensen v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 130 Wn. App. 341, 122 P.3d 937 (2005), the Court of Appeals held that because “it is the action, not each individual claim, that is subject to mandatory arbitration,” mandatory arbitration is only available if all parties to the action waive any claims for damages in excess of the statutory limit. The Christensen Court went on to conclude that while “in an action . . . there may be many claims to damages that together might exceed [the statutory limit] . . . it is each claim to damages that must not exceed the statutory limit.”
Because William and Deborah each alleged a separate claim for damages resulting from the loss of their dog, the claims should be treated as distinct. Therefore, the claims, under the Christensen standard, would be capped at $50,000 per claimant, or a total of $100,000 in the aggregate.
Moving on to the warrant of abatement, the Court turned to RCW 7.06.020(1), which states that a civil action is subject to mandatory arbitration only if “the sole relief sought is monetary judgment.” Kerrigan tried to argue that the Twitchells’ request for a motion for post-judgment warrant of abatement sought injunctive—not monetary—relief, and therefore mandatory arbitration was not permitted. The Court rejected this argument, noting that, under Washington law, the entry of a final judgment in a nuisance action is a requirement in order to file a motion for a warrant of abatement. In other words, a party cannot file a motion for a warrant of abatement until after the party obtains judgment. Therefore, the Twitchells’ lawsuit was still subject to mandatory arbitration because the arbitrator would not be deciding any claims for injunctive relief because those would be post-judgment issues.
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