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Seattle's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by McKean J. Evans

Are domestic workers like nannies, gardeners and housekeepers entitled to basic worker protections like breaks and minimum wages? The answer used to be no, but under Seattle’s new Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, domestic workers have new and important legal rights with which employers must comply.

On July 27th, 2018, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed Ordinance 125627, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, establishing new rights and protections for domestic workers. The Ordinance generally does three things: (1) imposes a minimum wage for domestic workers; (2) requires regular breaks for domestic workers; and (3) adds miscellaneous additional protections aimed at curbing some reported abuses of domestic workers that are common in the industry. However, the Ordinance is complex and the devil is in the details.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights has its background in the lack of existing legal protections for domestic workers. The mayor’s office noted:

For more than 80 years, domestic workers have been exempted from federal laws that allow workers the legal right to join in union to demand better working conditions. That exclusion has historically led to the exploitation of these workers who are mostly immigrant and mostly women of color. Many domestic employees are covered by federal, state, and municipal laws on minimum wage and overtime but don’t know their rights. They fear retaliation and loss of employment for speaking out. According to the Seattle Domestic Workers Association estimates there are at least 30,000 domestic workers within city limits.

The activist organization Working Washington lauded the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as “a groundbreaking step forward for nannies and housecleaners.”
In practice, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights imposes three important new requirements on employers of domestic workers:

1. Minimum wage. Domestic workers are now entitled to a minimum wage. Calculating the specific minimum wage is complex because the specific hourly minimum wage takes into account whether the worker receives health insurance benefits and also accounts for the size of the employer. For example, a domestic worker employed by an employer with less than 500 employees in 2018 is entitled to $14.00 per hour if they receive no health insurance. These wage amounts increase annually.
2. Rest and Meal Breaks. Domestic workers are now entitled to regular rest and meal breaks. Again, the specific rights involved depend on the details of the job. Generally, domestic workers are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break for every 5 hours worked; the break is with pay unless the nanny is “on call” during the break. Domestic workers must also receive a 10-minute paid rest break every four hours worked, or a 10-minute unpaid uninterrupted rest break every three hours worked. In the event the worker’s duties prevent them from taking these breaks, the worker must receive additional compensation for the missed break. Domestic workers residing at the place of employment must receive an unpaid day off for every six consecutive days worked.
3. Additional Rights. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights also aims to curb some of the abuses to which domestic workers have been subjected. Among other things, employers may not keep the domestic workers original documents or personal effects (aimed at correcting practices where, for instance, domestic workers’ immigration papers are held hostage by the employer to keep the worker from reporting abusive labor practices to the authorities).

Domestic workers whose rights are violated have the right to file a lawsuit to recover double their lost pay, attorneys’ fees, and a $5,000 penalty for violations of the new law.

The law also includes an important protection for individuals hiring domestic workers through an agency: in such a relationship, the agency and not the individual is exclusively responsible for ensuring compliance with the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Pivotal Law Group Attorney McKean Evans advises both workers and employers regarding their legal rights. If you have questions about Seattle’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights or other employment law concerns, contact McKean for a free consultation.

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Inverse Condemnation Claims – Sound Transit

Posted Thursday, September 20, 2018 by Christopher L. Thayer

Division II of the Washington Court of Appeals recently addressed a situation where a landowner asserted an inverse condemnation claim against Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma for flood damage which plaintiff claimed was caused by the negligence of Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma. * See, Ruth v. Sound Transit and City of Tacoma*, No. 50458-8-II (September 11, 2018). This is an unpublished decision, but provides a nice primer on the law of inverse condemnation in Washington.

Article I, section 16 of the Washington Constitution limits the State’s inherent power of eminent domain by requiring the government to pay reasonable compensation for taking or damaging private property for public use. Phillips v. King County, 136 Wn.2d 946 (1998).

Inverse condemnation is an action instituted by a landowner “to recover the value of property which has been appropriated in fact, but with no formal exercise of the power of eminent domain.” Id., at 957. The elements of an inverse condemnation claim are (1) a taking or damaging (2) of private property (3) for public use (4) without just compensation (5) by a governmental entity that has not instituted formal eminent domain proceedings. Id. Under such circumstances, a private land owner may sue the appropriate governmental entity seeking compensation for their loss of their property or the damages to the property.

With regard to the first element, a taking or damaging occurs when the government invades or interferes with the use and enjoyment of a person’s property, causing the property to decline in market value. Martin v. Port of Seattle, 64 Wn. 2d 309 (1964). A landowner alleging an inverse condemnation must show more than a tortious interference with the use or enjoyment of his property. Borden v. City of Olympia, 113 Wn. App. 359 (2002). Flooding can provide the bases for an inverse condemnation as an “invasion” of property if the invasion is “permanent or recurring” or involves “‘a chronic and unreasonable pattern of behavior by the government.’” Gaines v. Pierce County, 66 Wn. App. 715 (1992).

More specifically, a municipality may not collect surface water by artificial means, channel the water, and deposit it on private property, thereby causing damage, unless the municipality compensates the owner. Wilber Dev. Corp. v. Les Rowland Constr., Inc., 83 Wn.2d 871 (1974).

An inverse condemnation claim may be proven by (1) the “diversion of waters from the direction in which they would naturally flow and onto the land of plaintiff” or (2) where “the amount of water has been increased.” Id. The measure of damages in an inverse condemnation case is the diminution in the fair market value of the property caused by the governmental taking or damage to the property. Peterson v. Port of Seattle, 94 Wn. 2d 479 (1980).

In Ruth, the Court of Appeals noted plaintiff had not retained an expert to testify about the issue of damages or the diminution in value to the property. Without this, and based on some other procedural issues (including lapse of the applicable statute of limitations), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s case.

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The Importance of Planning for Medical and End-of-Life Decisions

Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2018 by McKean J. Evans

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People make an estate plan because they want certainty about what will happen in the future. This often includes certainty about who will make medical decisions for you if you’re ever unable to do so. For many people, one important future medical decision is so-called “end-of-life” planning. This means exercising control over medical treatment and decision-making in a terminal illness or similar condition. Some people express a desire to go off life support or decline life-sustaining medical care because they don’t want to artificially prolong the process of their dying. Others just want a firm plan for who will make those decisions to give themselves and their family certainty.

People have a right to make end-of-life plans. Medical ethical principles give patients an absolute right to decide what medical treatment to undergo, including the right to refuse medical treatment. That includes designating someone else to decide to refuse medical treatment on your behalf if you’re incapacitated.

But this generates a conflict with health care providers, who always want to do everything they can to keep patients alive as long as possible regardless of the patient’s awareness or quality of life. When decisions are being made that are, quite literally, life-and-death, medical providers want to be certain they are following the patient’s wishes. It doesn’t matter how forceful your wishes are, or how strongly your trusted decision maker advocates for you, if you haven’t planned for these decisions in a way healthcare providers and the law will recognize.

Washington law gives people the right to plan for this as part of their estate plan. You can express your wishes in advance with a Health Care Directive. Washington’s Natural Death Act permits individuals to issue an advance Health Care Directive describing the individual’s desire for medical providers to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment. A Health Care Directive becomes effective only if the person is certified by doctors to be in a “terminal condition” or “permanent unconscious condition.” In such event, the Health Care Directive expresses the person’s desire that their dying not be prolonged by artificially provided nutrition and hydration. The directive has specific formal requirements including being witnessed by two disinterested persons.

Washington law also gives you the right to designate an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you’re incapacitated through a Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney is a formal document granting a third party authority to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. A Power of Attorney providing a trusted agent authority to make medical decisions on your behalf under specific circumstances can give you some certainty that future medical decisions, including end-of-life planning, are made in accordance with your wishes.

The tension between end of life planning and health care providers, and the need for a specific and effective medical decision-making plan, were highlighted in a recent high-profile Oregon case where the patient’s husband accused her doctors of ignoring her wishes for medical treatment. There, doctors continued providing artificial nutrition to the patient despite her wishes in her advanced directive, because the doctors believed the patient’s advance directive was not specific enough under the circumstances. Cases such as this one underscore the need for careful advance planning of your future and end-of-life medical wishes.

If you have questions regarding planning for future medical decision-making, contact Attorney McKean J. Evans for a free consultation.

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Five Important Things You Should Have in Your LLC Operating Agreement

Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2018 by Kim Sandher

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While most states don’t require you to have an operating agreement (Washington is the one of the states that does not require it), one of the biggest mistakes people make after setting up a Limited Liability Company is not drafting an operating agreement. I’ve had many clients come to me after things have fallen apart and they don’t have anything in writing to resolve their issues and a lot of them end up in expensive litigation trying to resolve the problem. As you probably know, litigation can be very expensive. It’s good to address things you don’t want to think about and that are not at the top of your list when launching your business.

An operating agreement is the document that lays out the rules and understanding among the members of the LLC. It is like what the bylaws for a corporation are.

These are five important things you should consider putting in yours:

1. Ownership Interests: Usually ownership is based on how much each owner contributed when the company was started, but it’s still possible to split other ways. A lot of people make other arrangements. For example, an owner might get 30% of the company even though he or she only contributed 10% of the money to the company because they bring more experience, or will be bringing in more sales, or will be the only one running the business. Whatever the reason is, the operating agreement should clearly list out how much each owner interest is because it will affect important decisions for your company.

2. Management: The LLC can be managed by one or more members, by a board, or by one or more managers. Typically, management is responsible for the day-to-day running of the business and for strategic decisions. Your operating agreement should lay out how management is selected, what triggers removing or replacing management, what procedures should be followed, what powers management has, and any limitations to management.

3. Sharing of Profits and Losses:
Usually sharing in profits and losses is done according to the percentage owned. For example, if you own 30% of the company, you would get 30% of the profits and/or 30% of the losses. If a member is an individual, the amount they receive in profit or losses is typically what they’d report on their personal income tax. The percentages may be different than ownership interest because of tax considerations. It’s good to lay all of this out clearly in an agreement.

4. Member Changes: Laying out how a member may exit the business, sell their share, or what happens when a member dies will save you the hassle and stress of figuring it out when it does happen. You might want to give the remaining members the option to buy the exiting member’s share and lay out how the business will be valued. You may want to also address what happens when a member files for divorce or bankruptcy.

5. Dissolution:You should address the steps that should be taken to dissolve the LLC and how the assets should be divided and how debts should be paid.

Since this is one of the most important documents your business will have, it is always a good idea to have an attorney review your document even if you’ve drafted it yourself. Your lawyer will look it over to address any legal issues with the drafting and/or point out anything you may have missed. You should also keep this document updated to address any changes in the business.

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Title Insurance Cover Tribal Fishing Rights Claims Against Landowner Says Court of Appeals

Posted Thursday, August 30, 2018 by McKean J. Evans

Title insurance is a critical part of most real estate deals. In Washington and throughout the U.S., a piece of real estate has likely changed hands numerous times, including typical purchase money mortgage sales, foreclosures, bequests via a will or trust, or otherwise. As a result, prudent people about to buy land or a home buy title insurance, which protects the buyer from losing money if it subsequently turns out that there is a problem in the chain of prior transactions of the property. For example, a person might buy a new home and subsequently learn that, due to a defective transfer decades prior, the seller didn’t fully own the property and thus the new buyer’s ownership interest is in jeopardy. The new buyer might find themselves defending a lawsuit (a/k/a a “quite title” action) or otherwise taking a monetary loss on the property due to the defective title. In that case, the buyer would tender the claim to their title insurer who would defend the lawsuit or reimburse the buyer.

As a result, most prudent home-buyers and other parties to real estate transactions routinely buy title insurance. Unfortunately, the title insurer often resists paying claims when problems with title arise. This is particularly true where the claims against the title are more esoteric, such as tribal fishing treaty rights.

In Robbins v. Mason County Title Insurance Co., Case No. 50376-0-II, Washington’s Court of Appeals ruled in favor of buyers, the Robbinses, in their dispute with Mason County Title Insurance Company (“Mason Title”). In 1978, the Robbinses purchased land including tidelands formerly owned by the state of Washington (the “Property”), intending to use the tidelands for commercial shellfish harvesting. Being prudent land buyers, the Robbinses also purchased title insurance from Mason Title (the “Policy”). The Policy required Mason Title to insure the Robbinses against any loss resulting from defects in the Property’s title. Specifically, the policy stated:

[Mason Title] shall have the right to, and will, at its own expense, defend the insured with respect to all demands and legal proceedings founded upon a claim of title, encumbrance or defect which existed or is claimed to have existed prior to the date hereof and is not set forth or excepted herein.

Unfortunately for the Robbinses, their newly-purchased tidelands had a defect in title. The Sqaxin Island Tribe (“Tribe”) had a claim to the Property’s shellfish rights by virtue of the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek (“Treaty”). Upon learning of the Robbinses’ shellfish-harvesting aspirations, the Tribe sent the Robbinses a letter asserting its rights under the Treaty and demanding 50 percent of the harvestable shellfish from the Property.

The Robbinses tendered the Tribe’s claim to Mason Title and asked Mason Title to defend them as required by the Policy. Mason Title refused, claiming there was no coverage under the Policy for the Tribe’s claim. The Robbinses sued Mason Title for coverage under the Policy as well as for insurance bad faith.

The Court of Appeals ruled for the Robbinses. The court determined the Tribe’s claim constituted a “demand” “founded on a claim of encumbrance arising before the date of inception of the policy” which the Policy required Mason Title to defend the Robbinses against. Thus, the Robbinses had coverage under the plain language of the Policy.

Mason Title argued the Robbinses’ claim was excluded under the Policy’s exclusion for “public or private easements not disclosed by the public records.” The court disagreed, finding the Tribe’s rights under the Treaty were not “easements.” An easement is “a right to enter and use property for some specified purpose.” The Tribe’s shellfish harvesting rights were not a right granted to the Tribe to enter the Property but rather existing rights the Tribe had always possessed and which the Treaty simply reserved for the Tribe.

Besides ruling the Policy covered the Tribe’s claim against the Robbinses, the court also ruled Mason Title acted in bad faith in unreasonably refusing to defend the Robbinses. The court found Mason Title’s interpretation of the policy was, at best, an arguable reading of an ambiguous provision of the Policy. As such, Mason Title was required to, at least, defend the Robbinses from the Tribe’s claim while reserving its right to dispute coverage.

The Robbins case emphasizes property buyers should carefully review their title insurance policies to confirm they are covered in the event title is defective, and should insist the title insurer follow the policy and provide coverage in the event of a loss.

Pivotal Law Group attorney McKean J. Evans represents insurance policyholders and has obtained favorable outcomes in disputes with insurance carriers. If you have questions regarding a title insurance or other insurance coverage matter, contact McKean for a free consultation.

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