From the Desk of Gordon C. Klug: In Hanson v. Luna-Ramirez, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled on whether an attorney’s signature to a request for trial de novo was sufficient under SCCAR 7.1.
Claims Pointer: Under the new version of Superior Court Civil Arbitration Rules (“SCCAR”), an attorney and the aggrieved party must sign a request for trial de novo to review an arbitration award. Failure of either the attorney or the aggrieved party to sign the request for trial de novo is fatal to the request.
Hanson v. Luna-Ramirez, No. 82252-7-1, slip op. (Wash. App. Oct. 4, 2021).
In 2018 Kathleen Hanson (“Hanson”) was driving her vehicle when she struck and killed a horse owned by Jose Luna- Ramirez (“Luna”). The horse had escaped from a field at the time of the incident. On December 18, 2019, Hanson filed a complaint against Luna-Ramirez for negligence. After Luna filed his answer to the complaint, Hanson requested mandatory arbitration. The parties participated in arbitration and the arbitrator issued an award in Hanson’s favor. A week after the arbitration award was filed with the court, Luna filed a timely request for trial de novo. Luna’s attorney signed the request, however, Luna did not. Hanson filed a motion to strike the request for trial de novo because only Luna’s counsel, and not Luna, signed the request. The trial court granted the motion to strike. Luna appealed arguing that Mandatory Arbitration Rule 7.1 required the signature of only the attorney of the aggrieved party, not the aggrieved party itself.
When addressing issues of statutory interpretation, “[the court] interpret[s] a court rule as though it were enacted by the legislature, giving effect to its plain meaning as an expression of legislative intent. Plain meaning is discerned from reading the rule as a whole, harmonizing its provisions, and using related rules to help identify the legislative intent embodied in the rule.” State v. Chhom, 162 Wn.2d 451, 458 (2007) (footnotes omitted).
A party aggrieved by an arbitration award has the right to a trial de novo. SCCAR 7.1(a); Revised Code of Washington 7.06.050(1). The party must serve and file a request for trial de novo within twenty days after the arbitrator files their decision and award with the clerk of the superior court. SCCAR 7.1(a); RCW 7.06.050(1)(a). They must also file poof of service of the request for trial de novo with the parties. The notice must be signed by the party. RCW 7.06.050(1); accord SCCAR 7.1(b).
The court looked at whether the amendment to RCW 7.06.050 in 2018 required the aggrieved party, and not just the aggrieved party’s attorney, to sign the request for trial de novo. In 2018, the legislature amended RCW 7.06.050 to include the requirement that “[t]he notice must be signed by the party.” Laws of 2018, ch. 36, § 6. Additionally, SCCAR 7.1(b) provided a form for a request for a trial de novo with two signature lines and instructions. The form included one signature line designated for the “[s]ignature of aggrieved party,” and one line designated for the “[n]ame of attorney for aggrieved party.” SCCAR 7.1(b). Effective December 3, 2019, the Superior Court Mandatory Arbitration Rules were renamed the Superior Court Civil Arbitration Rules. At that time, the legislature amended SCCAR 7.1 to reflect the new statutory requirement that the request for trial de novo must be signed by the “aggrieved party.” The signature of that party’s attorney was not sufficient.
Here, Hanson’s lawsuit was filed on December 18, 2019, less than a month after the legislature amended RCW 7.06.050 and SCCAR 7.1 to require the signature of the aggrieved party. Luna cited numerous cases prior to the legislative amendments that held the signature of the attorney alone was sufficient for a request for a trial de novo. The court held that, because the legislature amended RCW 7.06.050 in 2018, the cases Luna cited were superseded by the amended statute. The main issue was that Luna relied on an outdated court rule and used an outdated form to request his trial de novo. The court held that, because SCCAR 7.1 requires the aggrieved party to sign the request, it was proper for the trial court to strike the request for trial de novo.
Luna also argued that because the court did not enter any findings of fact or conclusions of law in granting Hanson’s motion to strike the request for trial de novo, the case should be remanded. The court held that under Civil Rule 52, findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under rules 12 through 56 or any other motions with two exceptions. Those exceptions did not apply to this case. Therefore, the trial court was not required to make findings and conclusions when deciding the motion to strike the request for trial de novo.
THE BIG PICTURE
Attorneys must always be aware of changes in legislation and rules that change requirements for filings with the court lest their clients face the consequences. Even in situations where the legislative changes took place two weeks before the filing of a complaint, those changes are effective against any cases that come after.