Clark v. Baines

Decision Date18 October 2002
Docket NumberNo. 25879-0-II.,25879-0-II.
Citation55 P.3d 1180,114 Wash. App. 19
PartiesPiety Ann CLARK, Respondent, v. Wayne A. BAINES and "Jane Doe" Baines, husband and wife, Appellants.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Otto Steve Matsch, Tacoma, WA, for Respondent.

Wayne Clark Fricke, Law Offices of Monte E. Hester, Tacoma, WA, for Appellants.

QUINN-BRINTNALL, A.C.J.

Wayne A. Baines appeals the trial court's dismissal of his malicious prosecution counterclaims against Piety Ann Clark. Following Baines' entry of an Alford1 plea to two counts of fourth degree assault with sexual motivation, Clark sued Baines seeking damages for sexual battery and outrage. Because Baines' unchallenged judgment and sentence conclusively establishes probable cause for Clark's lawsuit and precludes Baines' claim of malicious prosecution against the victim of the offense to which he pleaded guilty, we affirm.

FACTS

Piety Ann Clark accused her state provided caregiver, Wayne A. Baines, of rape. Baines admitted having sexual relations with Clark, but he claimed that they were consensual. He also claimed that Clark made the rape accusations after he broke off their affair and that Clark, who received state support and benefits because she is blind, was not as blind as she pretended.

The State initially charged Baines with first degree rape with a firearm enhancement, but it amended the charges to two counts of fourth degree assault with sexual motivation. On February 24, 1999, Baines entered an Alford plea to both counts in the amended information and stated:

Although I maintain my innocence I am entering into this plea agreement because after reviewing the facts and law with my attorney I believe a jury would find me guilty of the crime charged in the Amended Information if the case proceeded to trial and I desire to take advantage of the State's recommendation.

Clerk's Papers (CP) at 22.

He also assured the court that his plea was voluntary, stating:

Q Now, has anyone threatened you or forced you in any way to make you enter these pleas today?

A No, ma'am.

Q On paragraph 11 of this document, [your attorney] has written out the sentencing recommendation the prosecuting attorney has agreed to recommend in this case to the court regarding this matter. Have you reviewed that sentencing recommendation with [your attorney]?

A Yes, ma'am.

Q Other than this sentencing recommendation that the prosecutor has agreed to make, has anyone offered you anything or given you anything in return for your entering these pleas?

A No, ma'am.

Q And did you sign this document here; is that your signature?

A Yes, ma'am.

CP at 30.

The trial court accepted Baines' pleas and suspended a one-year sentence. No restitution was ordered.2 Baines has never challenged the validity of his plea-based convictions on appeal nor by collateral attack.

On May 13, 1999, Clark sued Baines for sexual battery and outrage. On May 21, 1999, Baines filed a counterclaim for malicious prosecution. On April 14, 2000, the trial court granted Clark's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Baines' malicious prosecution counterclaim. We granted discretionary review.

One issue is dispositive. Does the unchallenged judgment and sentence entered on a defendant's Alford pleas conclusively establish probable cause and, thereby, preclude a counterclaim for malicious prosecution in a damages action brought by the victim of the crime to which the defendant pleaded guilty? We address this issue in two contexts: First, whether Baines may bring a malicious prosecution action against Clark for having been criminally prosecuted. And second, whether Baines may bring a malicious prosecution action against Clark for suing him civilly to recover damages arising from the charges to which he pleaded guilty.

ANALYSIS

An action for malicious prosecution began as a remedy for unjustifiable criminal proceedings. WILLIAM L. PROSSER & W. PAGE KEETON, THE LAW ON TORTS 889 (5th ed.1984). Today the phrase "malicious prosecution" has a broader reading and is an available remedy in all types of civil law suits. See CR 18.3 It is even possible to have dueling malicious prosecution claims.4

For Baines to prove that he is being maliciously prosecuted for sexual battery, he must show that Clark, the malicious prosecution defendant, did the following: (1) initiated or continued the principal action, (2) without probable cause, and (3) with malice. He must also show that (4) the principal action was terminated on the merits in his favor, the malicious prosecution plaintiff, and (5) the principal action injured or damaged the malicious prosecution plaintiff.5 See Hanson v. City of Snohomish, 121 Wash.2d 552, 558, 852 P.2d 295 (1993)

. Baines bears the burden of proving each necessary element by a preponderance of the evidence.

Although a plaintiff must prove all elements of malicious prosecution, malice and want of probable cause constitute the gist of a malicious prosecution action. Hanson, 121 Wash.2d at 558, 852 P.2d 295. And probable cause is a complete defense to an action for malicious prosecution. Hanson, 121 Wash.2d at 558, 852 P.2d 295. A conviction, although later reversed, is conclusive evidence of probable cause, unless that conviction was obtained by fraud, perjury, or other corrupt means or the ground for reversal was absence of probable cause. Hanson, 121 Wash.2d at 559-60, 852 P.2d 295 (citing Hall v. Dare, 147 Wash. 264, 268, 266 P. 162 (1928)); Fondren v. Klickitat County, 79 Wash.App. 850, 855, 905 P.2d 928 (1995). Baines' conviction has not been reversed.

MALICIOUS PROSECUTION—CRIMINAL CHARGES

To maintain a malicious prosecution claim, the principal action must have terminated in favor of the party claiming he was maliciously prosecuted (in a criminal context) or is currently being maliciously prosecuted (in a civil context). Here the criminal action resulted in Baines' convictions; it did not terminate in his favor. Thus, Baines may not bring a malicious prosecution action for having been criminally prosecuted.

MALICIOUS PROSECUTION—CIVIL DAMAGES CLAIM

Other slightly different reasons support the trial court's dismissal of Baines' malicious prosecution claim in Clark's civil action for sexual battery. Even if Clark's civil battery and outrage claims were to terminate in Baines' favor, the record before us establishes that Baines cannot satisfy the probable cause and malice elements of his malicious prosecution counterclaim.

UNCHALLENGED JUDGMENT AND SENTENCE ESTABLISHES PROBABLE CAUSE

Baines' plea acknowledges that there is a factual basis for his fourth degree assault with sexual motivation convictions. Additionally, the trial court found an independent factual basis for these charges before accepting Baines' plea and Baines has not challenged this finding. See State v. Hubbard, 106 Wash.App. 149, 155, 22 P.3d 296 (a defendant's equivocal factual statement is part of an Alford plea and there is an independent factual basis for the guilty plea, there is no reason to refuse the plea), review denied, 145 Wash.2d 1004, 35 P.3d 380 (2001). Thus, Baines' convictions are supported by both his equivocal plea and the trial court's unchallenged finding that an independent factual basis exists sufficient to support the fourth degree assault with sexual motivation charges.

Baines has not alleged fraud nor otherwise challenged his convictions or the guilty pleas on which they are based. A trial court must allow withdrawal of a guilty plea in order to correct a manifest injustice. CrR 4.2(f); CrR 7.8(b); State v. Walsh, 143 Wash.2d 1, 6, 17 P.3d 591 (2001). Therefore, Baines' unchallenged plea-based convictions are sufficient to establish probable cause for Clark's claim for damages arising from the charges for which Baines stands convicted.6

If, as Baines claims, Clark is lying, his remedy was a motion to withdraw his plea under CrR 7.8(b).7 Because his conviction stands unchallenged, the trial court properly granted Clark's motion to dismiss the malicious prosecution counterclaim. Baines' malicious prosecution claim fails because, in the face of his unchallenged criminal conviction, he cannot prove that Clark maliciously prosecuted her civil action without probable cause.

BAINES' ADMISSION ESTABLISHES PROBABLE CAUSE

In his sworn statement to the court in support of his Alford plea, Baines stated:

Although I maintain my innocence, I am entering into this plea agreement because after reviewing the facts and law with my attorney, I believe a jury would find me guilty of the crime charged in the amended information [fourth degree assault with sexual motivation] if this case proceeded to trial, and I desire to take advantage of the state's recommendation.

CP at 22. Although he denied that he committed the crimes, Baines acknowledged in a sworn statement that there was sufficient evidence from which a jury could find him guilty if the case proceeded to trial. In other words, despite his denial, he admitted that there were sufficient circumstances to warrant 12 ordinarily prudent jurors in believing beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the crime charged in the amended information.8

That ordinarily reasonably prudent persons have information sufficient to lead them to believe that the defendant committed the crime charged is probable cause. Probable cause has also been defined as

"a reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man in believing the accused to be guilty." State v. Scott, 93 Wash.2d 7, 11, 604 P.2d 943 (1980) (citations omitted). And "[t]he question of probable cause should not be viewed in a hypertechnical manner." State v. Herzog, 73 Wash.App. 34, 53, 867 P.2d 648 (1994) (quoting State v. Remboldt, 64 Wash.App. 505, 510, 827 P.2d 282 (1992)).
State v. Gillenwater, 96 Wash.App. 667, 670, 980 P.2d 318, (1999),review denied, 140 Wash.2d 1004, 999 P.2d 1262 (2000).

Baines' sworn admission in his plea...

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