Island County v. State

Decision Date14 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. 64947-2,64947-2
Citation955 P.2d 377,135 Wn.2d 141
PartiesISLAND COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Washington, Respondent, v. STATE of Washington and the Community Council of Camano Island, Appellants.
CourtWashington Supreme Court
Christine Gregoire, Attorney General, William Collins, Assistant Attorney General, Olympia, Michael Majors, Deputy Attorney General, Everett, for Appellants

William H. Hawkins, Island County Prosecutor, David L. Jamieson, Jr., Deputy County Prosecutor, Coupeville, for Respondent.

GUY, Justice.

This case involves a challenge to the constitutionality of RCW 36.105, the community council act, which allows the creation of "community councils" in counties made up entirely of islands with an unincorporated population of over 30,000 people. The superior court declared the statute to be unconstitutional. We affirm.


The parties entered the following agreed facts but did House Bill 1201 was also introduced in the 1991 legislative session and pertained to the elimination of the use of formal county classes and the substitution of population figures to distinguish counties. That bill originally contained no provision for the creation of community councils. After the Senate proposed several amendments to that bill, the House requested a conference with the Senate. The House and Senate conferees agreed on the proposed amendments and also added sections 99-108, which authorized the creation of community councils but only in counties consisting entirely of islands with a population exceeding 30,000, which includes only Island County.

not stipulate to the relevancy of those facts. In the 1991 legislative session, House Bill 1009 was introduced which would have authorized the formation of community councils. Those councils would have had the power to propose comprehensive planning and zoning within each of the counties of the State. That bill passed the House but did not pass the Senate.

Substitute House Bill 1201 was passed by both houses, and sections 99-108 of the bill were codified as RCW 36.105. The act sets forth the process for creating community councils. A community, for which a community council is created, can include "only unincorporated territory located in a single county with a population of over thirty thousand that is made up entirely of islands and not included within a city or town." RCW 36.105.030. The process to create a council is initiated by a voter filing a petition which sets the boundaries for the community. RCW 36.105.040(1). The act provides that a proposed community must have at least 1,000 residents or, when the community is an entire island, 300 residents. RCW 36.105.030.

The community of Camano Island is an unincorporated territory located entirely within Island County. In July 1994, a petition was filed with the Island County Auditor's Office asking Island County to schedule a public vote on the formation of a nine-member community council for Camano Island pursuant to RCW 36.105. The election In September 1995, Plaintiff Island County brought suit against the State of Washington and the Community Council of Camano Island seeking a declaration that the community council act was unconstitutional. The parties entered an agreed statement of facts and made cross motions for summary judgment.

procedures of that act were followed and a community council was elected on Camano Island. (A community council was also duly elected for the community of Greenbank, which is an unincorporated area on Whidbey Island. The Greenbank Community Council has waived its rights to be included in this case and has agreed to be bound by this decision.)

The superior court granted summary judgment to Island County, finding that the statute is "special legislation" which is prohibited by article II, § 28(6) and/or article XI, § 10 (amend.10) of the state constitution. Since the superior court invalidated the statute on the ground it was special legislation, the court did not rule on any of the other constitutional issues raised by Island County. The superior court held that the Community Council of Camano Island was invalid and void, as being established under an unconstitutional law.

The State and the Community Council of Camano Island appealed. We accepted direct review. The State and Camano Island Community Council ask us to reverse the trial court's order, grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and hold that the act does not violate the state or federal constitutions. The County asks us to affirm the superior court's grant of summary judgment or find the statute unconstitutional on other grounds.


Appellants State of Washington and Camano Island Community Council assign error to the superior court's order granting Island County's motion for summary judgment. The County argues that the statute violates a number of

provisions of the state constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal constitution. Specifically, the County raises issues whether the statute:

(1) constitutes a special law granting corporate powers or privileges or creating a corporation for municipal purposes, contrary to article II, § 28(6) and/or article XI, § 10 of the state constitution;

(2) grants privileges to a class of citizens which do not apply equally to all similarly situated citizens, contrary to article I, § 12 of the state constitution;

(3) revises other pre-existing statutory provisions without setting forth the text of the provisions, in violation of article II, § 37 of the state constitution;

(4) violates article XI, § 4 of the state constitution, which requires the Legislature to establish a uniform system of county government throughout the state; and

(5) violates the one-person, one-vote requirement of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The County has withdrawn its claim that the act violates article II, § 19 of the state constitution.

Since we hold that the act is invalid because it is special legislation, it is unnecessary to address the other constitutional challenges to the statute.


This matter is before the Court on appeal from summary judgment, so review is de novo. Washington Fed'n of State Employees v. State, 127 Wash.2d 544, 551, 901 P.2d 1028 (1995). Our traditional articulation of the standard of review in a case where the constitutionality of a statute is challenged is that a statute is presumed to be constitutional and the burden is on the party challenging the statute to prove its unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. E.g., State v. Myles, 127 Wash.2d 807, 812, 903 P.2d 979 (1995); Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Washington Life & Disability In contrast, the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard used when a statute is challenged as unconstitutional refers to the fact that one challenging a statute must, by argument and research, convince the court that there is no reasonable doubt that the statute violates the constitution. The reason for this high standard is based on our respect for the legislative branch of government as a co-equal branch of government, which, like the court, is sworn to uphold the constitution. We assume the Legislature considered the constitutionality of its enactments and afford some deference to that judgment. Additionally, the Legislature speaks for the people and we are hesitant to strike a duly enacted statute unless fully convinced, after a searching legal analysis, that the statute violates the constitution. Smith, 111 Wash.2d at 17-18, 759 P.2d 372 (Utter, J., dissenting). See also Pacific Legal Found. v. Brown, 29 Cal.3d 168, 624 P.2d 1215, 1221, 172 Cal.Rptr. 487, 493 (1981). Ultimately, however, the judiciary must make the decision, as a matter of law, whether a given statute is within the legislature's power to enact or whether it violates a constitutional mandate. E.g., Brown, 624 P.2d at 1221, 172 Cal.Rptr. at 493 (citing Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 176-80, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803)).

Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 83 Wash.2d 523, 528, 520 P.2d 162 (1974). While we adhere to this standard, we take this opportunity to explain the rationale of such a standard. The "reasonable doubt" standard, when used in the context of a criminal proceeding as the standard necessary to convict an accused of a crime, is an evidentiary standard and refers to " 'the necessity of reaching a subjective state of certitude of the facts in issue.' " State v. Smith, 111 Wash.2d 1, 17, 759 P.2d 372 (1988) (Utter, J., dissenting) (quoting In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970)).

Even with this demanding standard of review in mind, we find that the County has borne its burden to convince us that the community council act violates our state constitution.

The Washington State Constitution prohibits the The legislature is prohibited from enacting any private or special laws in the following cases:

                Legislature from enacting special or private laws in certain circumstances.  Island County contends the community council act violates article II, § 28(6) and article XI, § 10 because it is "special legislation."   Island County contends these provisions are violated because the statute applies only to counties composed entirely of islands with a population of over 30,000 people.  RCW 36.105.010, .030.  The parties agree that only Island County comes within this classification.  The State and Camano Island contend the statute is a valid general law.  Article II, § 28 provides


6. For granting corporate powers or privileges.

It has long been recognized, and is not disputed by the parties, that this subdivision relates to powers conferred on municipal as well as private corporations. Terry v. King County, 43 Wash. 61, 86 P. 210 (1906); Miller v. City of Pasco, 50 Wash.2d 229, 235, 310 P.2d 863 (1957). The parties all agree that the community council act does grant...

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