Nollette v. Christianson, No. 56996-7

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtDURHAM; CALLOW
Citation800 P.2d 359,115 Wn.2d 594
Decision Date15 November 1990
Docket NumberNo. 56996-7
PartiesJohn P. NOLLETTE, Appellant, v. Gail CHRISTIANSON, Acting Administrator of the District Court of the County of Spokane, and Judge Richard F. Wrenn, Presiding Judge of the Spokane County District Court, on behalf of the Presiding Department and on behalf of all future Presiding Judges of said Court, Respondents, and The City of Spokane, Intervenor. En Banc

Page 594

115 Wn.2d 594
800 P.2d 359
John P. NOLLETTE, Appellant,
v.
Gail CHRISTIANSON, Acting Administrator of the District
Court of the County of Spokane, and Judge Richard F. Wrenn,
Presiding Judge of the Spokane County District Court, on
behalf of the Presiding Department and on behalf of all
future Presiding Judges of said Court, Respondents,
and
The City of Spokane, Intervenor.
No. 56996-7.
Supreme Court of Washington,
En Banc.
Nov. 15, 1990.

[800 P.2d 360]

Page 595

Mary E. Schultz, P.S. and Mary E. Schultz, for appeal only, Spokane, for appellant.

Donald C. Brockett, Spokane County Prosecutor and Robert B. Binger, Deputy County Prosecutor, Spokane, for respondent Wrenn.

James C. Sloane, Spokane City Atty. and Michael A. Nelson, Asst. City Atty., Spokane, for intervenor.

DURHAM, Justice.

Spokane County District Court Judge John P. Nollette brought a declaratory judgment action requesting an interpretation of Spokane County Code (SCC) § 1.16.050 and Spokane Municipal Code (SMC) § 5.01.010. He

Page 596

contends that the eight Spokane County District Court judges are a municipal department and that he should be allowed to serve as a Spokane Municipal Court judge, even though he has not been so appointed by the mayor of Spokane. The trial court denied the requested declaratory relief. We affirm.
I

John P. Nollette was appointed to be a Spokane County District Court judge in April 1982. Shortly thereafter, the mayor of the City of Spokane appointed Nollette to be a judge of the City of Spokane Municipal Court, and he was assigned municipal cases. In the fall of 1982, Nollette ran for election as Spokane County District Court judge and was elected to a first term commencing in January 1983. Nollette continued to hear municipal cases as a Spokane Municipal Court judge.

In the fall of 1986, Nollette ran unopposed for re-election to a second term as Spokane County District Court judge. He continued to hear Spokane Municipal Court cases as a judge pro tempore, in the absence of appointment, until sometime prior to August 1987. Nollette subsequently refused[800 P.2d 361] to hear municipal cases as a judge pro tempore.

On January 26, 1987, during the regular session of the Spokane City Council, the mayor of the City of Spokane recommended to the City Council that four of the eight Spokane County District Court judges be appointed to the position of Spokane Municipal Court judges for 1987. The City Council duly approved the appointments of Christine Cary, Daniel T. Maggs, John J. Madden, and Richard F. Wrenn to the Spokane Municipal Court for 1987. In addition, the City Council authorized any District Court judge of the State of Washington to serve in the Spokane Municipal Court as a judge pro tempore at the discretion of the presiding judge of the Spokane County District Court.

Following the approval of the appointments, City Attorney James C. Sloane forwarded a letter to the presiding judge of the Spokane County District Court informing him

Page 597

of the four appointments and that these appointments superseded any previous appointments that may have been made.

In August 1987, Judge Wrenn became presiding judge of Spokane County District Court. Based upon the fact that the City declined to appoint Nollette to the position of Spokane Municipal Court judge, and Nollette's refusal to hear municipal cases as judge pro tempore, Judge Wrenn terminated assignment of Spokane Municipal Court cases to Nollette and the three other Spokane County District Court judges who were not appointed to the position of Spokane Municipal Court judges.

On February 9, 1988, Nollette petitioned the Spokane County Superior Court for writ of mandamus directing Spokane County District Court Administrator Gail Christianson and Judge Wrenn, on behalf of the presiding department and on behalf of all future presiding judges of the Spokane County District Court, from removing him from the position of Spokane Municipal Court judge, and additionally mandating that he be assigned to hear cases as a Spokane Municipal Court judge.

The City of Spokane filed a motion to intervene as a party respondent, which was granted on March 7, 1988. On March 9, 1988, Christianson filed a motion for an order of dismissal on the grounds that the District Court Administrator's office, which has administrative control for case setting, subject to the supervision of the presiding judge, did not remove Nollette from the position of Spokane Municipal Court judge, and has no duty enforceable by mandate to assign Nollette to hear cases as a Spokane Municipal Court judge. The motion was granted.

On April 4, 1988, pursuant to stipulation between the parties, Nollette amended his application for a writ of mandate to include a prayer for declaratory judgment pursuant to RCW Ch. 7.24, as an alternative argument to the mandamus action.

The procedural posture of this case at trial presented the court with two actions in the alternative. Nollette requested

Page 598

the Superior Court to issue a writ of mandate to the presiding judge of the Spokane County District Court ordering that he be assigned municipal cases as a Spokane Municipal Court judge. However, in the event the court determined that a writ of mandate was inappropriate, Nollette requested the court to enter declaratory judgment interpreting SCC § 1.16.050 and SMC § 5.01.010, that the eight Spokane County District Court judges are a municipal department, and that he be allowed to serve as Spokane Municipal Court judge.

On February 7, 1989, after oral argument, the Superior Court issued its written findings and order denying both declaratory and mandamus relief. On March 1, 1989, Nollette filed notice of appeal in the Court of Appeals seeking review of the Superior Court's decision.

On March 13, 1990, pursuant to RCW 2.06.030(d), the Court of Appeals certified the case to this court. We are asked to decide if the trial court erred in denying declaratory relief. 1

[800 P.2d 362] II

Under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, RCW Ch. 7.24, courts of record are authorized to "declare rights, status and other legal relations". RCW 7.24.010; Williams v. Poulsbo Rural Tel. Ass'n, 87 Wash.2d 636, 643, 555 P.2d 1173 (1976). Accordingly, a person whose rights are affected by, inter alia, a statute or municipal ordinance may obtain a declaration of rights thereunder. RCW 7.24.020; see also State ex rel. Lyon v. Board of Cy. Comm'rs, 31 Wash.2d 366, 373, 196 P.2d 997 (1948).

In applying the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, we have firmly maintained that, absent issues of major public importance, a justiciable controversy must exist before a court's jurisdiction may be invoked under the act. DiNino v. State, 102 Wash.2d 327, 330, 684

Page 599

P.2d 1297 (1984). For purposes of declaratory relief, a justiciable controversy is:

(1) ... an actual, present and existing dispute, or the mature seeds of one, as distinguished from a possible, dormant, hypothetical, speculative, or moot disagreement, (2) between parties having genuine and opposing interests, (3) which involves interests that must be direct and substantial, rather than potential, theoretical, abstract or academic, and (4) a judicial determination of which will be final and conclusive.

Diversified Indus. Dev. Corp. v. Ripley, 82 Wash.2d 811, 815, 514 P.2d 137 (1973). In this case, the parties make no argument that a justiciable controversy is lacking, and we do not find any such deficiency. Accordingly, we proceed to the merits.

We commence our discussion by delineating the appropriate standard of review. In declaratory judgment actions, appellate review may ensue in two situations. First, under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, trial courts have discretion to determine whether to entertain a declaratory judgment action. Accordingly, an appellate court may be called upon to determine whether the trial court erroneously exercised its discretion either to consider or refuse to consider such an action. Second, in cases in which a court decides the declaratory judgment action on its merits, an appellate court may be called upon to determine the propriety of the lower court's grant or denial of declaratory relief.

In the present case, the Superior Court proceeded to the merits and denied the requested declaratory relief. This court's prior decisions have not announced the appropriate standard of review in this situation. The Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act indicates only that "[a]ll orders, judgments and decrees under this chapter may be reviewed as other orders, judgments and decrees." RCW 7.24.070. In commenting on this particular section of the act, one scholar has noted that this provision "is designed to make clear that no special appellate procedure is involved and that the ordinary periods and rules apply to an appeal from

Page 600

a declaratory judgment." E. Borchard, Declaratory Judgments 253 (2d ed. 1941).

Accordingly, in the context of appellate review of a trial court's denial of the requested declaratory relief, the trial court findings of fact which are supported by substantial evidence will not be disturbed on appeal. Cf. Burba v. Vancouver, 113 Wash.2d 800, 807, 783 P.2d 1056 (1989). Conclusions of law involving the interpretation of statutes and municipal ordinances, however, are reviewed de novo. See Spokane Cy. v. Glover, 2 Wash.2d 162, 97 P.2d 628 (1940). Cf. Everett Concrete Prods., Inc. v. Department of Labor & Indus., 109 Wash.2d 819, 823, 748 P.2d 1112 (1988).

III

The fundamental question in this case is whether Nollette, as an elected Spokane County District Court judge, a fortiori has jurisdiction to act in the capacity of a Spokane Municipal Court judge, or whether such jurisdiction is dependent upon mayoral appointment. The Superior Court concluded that Nollette was without jurisdiction to act in the capacity of a Spokane Municipal Court judge. The court's findings and order states:

[800 P.2d 363]...

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63 practice notes
  • Washington State Republican Party v. STATE PUBLIC DISCLOSURE …, No. 67442-6.
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • July 27, 2000
    ...determination of which will be final and conclusive.'" Id. at 917, 949 P.2d 1291 (citing Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 599, 800 P.2d 359 (1990) (quoting Diversified Indus. Dev. Corp. v. Ripley, 82 Wash.2d 811, 815, 514 P.2d 137 Here, there was no justifiable controversy on whic......
  • Stevens Cnty. v. Stevens Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 37467-0-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • November 16, 2021
    ...141, 146, 955 P.2d 377 (1998). Review of a trial court's denial of declaratory judgment relief is de novo. Nollette v. Christianson, 5 115 Wn.2d 594, 599-600, 800 P.2d 359 (1990). We review issues of constitutionality de novo. State v. Sieyes, 168 Wn.2d 276, 281, 225 P.3d 995 (2010). B. Jus......
  • Washington State Coalition for the Homeless v. Department of Social and Health Services, No. 62879-3
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 24, 1997
    ...controversy must exist before a court's jurisdiction may be invoked under the Act. See Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 598, 800 P.2d 359 (1990). Issues of major public importance have included questions of salary, tenure and eligibility to stand for office, being matters directly......
  • Ames v. Pierce Cnty., No. 45880–2–II.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 17, 2016
    ...” League of Educ. Voters v. State, 176 Wash.2d 808, 816, 295 P.3d 743 (2013) (quoting Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 598, 800 P.2d 359 (1990) ). ¶ 36 A justiciable controversy requires proof of four elements:“(1) ... an actual, present and existing dispute, or the mature seeds o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
63 cases
  • Washington State Republican Party v. STATE PUBLIC DISCLOSURE …, No. 67442-6.
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • July 27, 2000
    ...of which will be final and conclusive.'" Id. at 917, 949 P.2d 1291 (citing Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 599, 800 P.2d 359 (1990) (quoting Diversified Indus. Dev. Corp. v. Ripley, 82 Wash.2d 811, 815, 514 P.2d 137 Here, there was no justifiable controversy on which to issu......
  • Stevens Cnty. v. Stevens Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 37467-0-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • November 16, 2021
    ...141, 146, 955 P.2d 377 (1998). Review of a trial court's denial of declaratory judgment relief is de novo. Nollette v. Christianson, 5 115 Wn.2d 594, 599-600, 800 P.2d 359 (1990). We review issues of constitutionality de novo. State v. Sieyes, 168 Wn.2d 276, 281, 225 P.3d 995 (2010). B. Jus......
  • Washington State Coalition for the Homeless v. Department of Social and Health Services, No. 62879-3
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 24, 1997
    ...controversy must exist before a court's jurisdiction may be invoked under the Act. See Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 598, 800 P.2d 359 (1990). Issues of major public importance have included questions of salary, tenure and eligibility to stand for office, being matters directly......
  • Ames v. Pierce Cnty., No. 45880–2–II.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 17, 2016
    ...” League of Educ. Voters v. State, 176 Wash.2d 808, 816, 295 P.3d 743 (2013) (quoting Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 598, 800 P.2d 359 (1990) ). ¶ 36 A justiciable controversy requires proof of four elements:“(1) ... an actual, present and existing dispute, or the mature seeds o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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