To-Ro Trade Shows v. Collins

Decision Date02 August 2001
Docket NumberNo. 69753-1.,69753-1.
PartiesTO-RO TRADE SHOWS, d/b/a O'Loughlin Trade Shows, Petitioner, v. Grant COLLINS and Kathy Barrosfriedt, in her official capacity as the Director of the Department of Licensing, The State of Washington, and Robert Smith, and John Does 1 Through 5, Respondents.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Mann, Johnson, Wooster & McLaughlin, Richard H. Wooster, Tacoma, for Petitioner.

Christine Gregoire, Atty. Gen., Rene David Tomisser, Asst. Atty. Gen., Olympia, for Respondent.

Daniel R. Warncke, Daniel F. Oberklein, Cincinnati, for Amicus Curiae.


We must decide whether a producer of recreational-vehicle (RV) trade shows presented a justiciable controversy under Washington's Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (chapter 7.24 RCW) (the Act). To-Ro Trade Shows (To-Ro) brought a declaratory judgment action against the State after the Department of Licensing (DOL) enforced the dealer licensing statute (RCW 46.70.021) at To-Ro's 1994 Spokane RV show. To-Ro contended that the State's closure of that portion of its show dedicated to an unlicensed RV dealer violated To-Ro's rights under the Commerce Clause and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The trial court dismissed To-Ro's claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that, because To-Ro had failed to "demonstrate a direct and certain financial impact" arising from the State's enforcement of the licensing statute, To-Ro lacked standing to pursue declaratory relief. To-Ro Trade Shows v. Collins, 100 Wash.App. 483, 493, 997 P.2d 960 (2000). We agree and hold that To-Ro could not maintain an action for declaratory relief because it failed to present an actual, immediate dispute in which it had a direct, substantial interest. We affirm the Court of Appeals.


To-Ro produces a variety of consumer trade shows, including RV, boat, home and garden, and sportsman shows. To-Ro secures a site for an event, rents space to exhibitors, and charges admission to the public. To-Ro scheduled an RV show for April 7-10, 1994, at the Interstate Fairgrounds in Spokane. When a number of dealers in the local RV association decided not to rent space at the show, To-Ro invited an RV dealer from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to participate. Aware that the dealer, Lake City RV, was licensed to conduct business in Idaho but not in Washington, To-Ro's Robert O'Loughlin spoke with Grant Collins, a DOL investigator. Collins told O'Loughlin that a license was required and that the dealer should not participate without one. O'Loughlin then contacted DOL supervisors in Tacoma and Spokane, who also confirmed that an out-of-state dealer was required to have a Washington license in order to participate.

Before the event opened, DOL received an anonymous tip that an unlicensed dealership had brought its vehicles to the fairgrounds. Collins went to the fairgrounds and gave Douglas Foster, Lake City RV's sales manager, written notice that his dealership's participation would be unlawful. On Friday, the second day of the show, Collins returned to find that Lake City RV was indeed participating in the show. At a meeting in O'Loughlin's office, O'Loughlin tried to persuade Collins that Lake City RV could participate as long as it placed "For Display Only" signs on its vehicles, posted no prices, and sold no vehicles, but after checking with his superiors, Collins reiterated that a license was required for Lake City RV to participate.1 While at the show on Friday, Collins observed that Lake City RV did not have any restrictive "For Display Only" signs on the vehicles. Lake City RV had posted manufacturer's suggested retail prices on its vehicles, as well as handwritten signs reading "show special" or "show prices." Report of Proceedings (RP) at 358-60. Collins asked Lake City RV to close and lock its vehicles, and Lake City RV complied. After the Lake City RV exhibit was closed, O'Loughlin posted a note on its vehicles stating that "show prices are good thru next Sunday April 17th." RP at 360-61, Ex. 13.

Alleging that DOL's enforcement of the statute violated To-Ro's constitutional rights under the Commerce Clause and the First and Fourteenth Amendments, To-Ro filed a declaratory judgment action in March 1995 challenging the constitutionality of RCW 46.70.021; To-Ro sought damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and also claimed that DOL had tortiously interfered with To-Ro's business expectancy.2 O'Loughlin claimed that, because Lake City RV was a major exhibitor in the Spokane RV show, patrons had demanded refunds after its exhibit was closed. O'Loughlin asserted that, to compensate for the exhibit's closure, he had offered free admission on Friday evening and had reduced ticket prices for Saturday and Sunday, and he cited as an additional loss his refund of Lake City RV's rental fee of $4,800.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court dismissed To-Ro's Commerce Clause claim for lack of standing. The court also dismissed To-Ro's claim that RCW 46.70.021 violated the First Amendment on its face, but the court simultaneously entered a second order ruling that the statute neither prohibited unlicensed dealers from displaying and pricing their RVs at trade shows nor precluded product representatives from accompanying those displayed vehicles.

When the case went to trial, the parties disagreed as to the meaning of the second order, so the court prohibited any mention of the order in opening statements. At the close of the evidence and outside of the jury's presence, the court dismissed all of To-Ro's causes of action. The court ruled that, because Lake City RV was unlicensed, it had no property interest that would give rise to a procedural due process claim and that, even if Lake City RV had had such a claim, To-Ro lacked standing to assert it. Having determined that To-Ro lacked standing to raise its Commerce Clause and due process claims, the court dismissed To-Ro's claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accepting as a second basis for dismissal the State's qualified immunity defense.

The court also addressed the implications of the second summary judgment order, which it termed a "stipulation ... without the court's independent ruling." RP at 517. In the court's view, the transcript of the summary judgment hearing showed that the court had never ruled on whether RCW 46.70.021 prohibited an unlicensed dealer from participating in a trade show on a "display only" basis. The court recognized that at trial the State had argued a position contrary to the stipulation and that To-Ro had not objected. Thus, contrary to the disputed order, the court ruled "that displaying products at a trade show where the products are physically present with the public is engaging in business ... as contemplated by the Department of Licensing regulations or statutes." RP at 586. The court rejected To-Ro's claim that RCW 46.70.021 violated the First Amendment. In ruling that the statute had been fairly applied to exclude Lake City RV, the court foreclosed the tortious interference claim because, as the State argued and the court agreed, To-Ro could have no valid business expectancy from a party in violation of the law.

After dismissing all claims, the court submitted, with the parties' approval, three questions to the jury.3 The court reasoned that, if the State were indeed bound by the second summary judgment order (wherein the parties had stipulated that the licensing statute did not apply to dealers participating on a "display only" basis), the jury would need to resolve certain factual questions. Consequently, the jury was asked whether To-Ro had proven (1) that no prices were ever displayed on Lake City RV's vehicles, (2) that "For Display Only" signs had been posted on Lake City RV's vehicles at all times during the show, and (3) that the State's closure proximately caused To-Ro damages. The verdict form also asked the jury to state the amount of damages, should it answer the third question affirmatively. The jury answered "No" to all three questions.4

To-Ro appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, holding that To-Ro lacked standing to challenge the State's enforcement of RCW 46.70.021 against Lake City RV. To-Ro Trade Shows, 100 Wash. App. at 493-94, 997 P.2d 960. We granted To-Ro's petition for review.


Did To-Ro present a justiciable controversy under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act?


To-Ro sought a declaration under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act that Washington's dealer licensing statute, RCW 46.70.021, unconstitutionally precluded unlicensed dealers from displaying their vehicles at trade shows held in Washington. The challenged licensing statute, which aims to protect Washington consumers from "frauds, impositions, and other abuses," makes it "unlawful for any person, firm, or association to act as a vehicle dealer ..., to engage in business as such, ... [or] solicit sales as such, ... without first obtaining and holding a current license as provided in this chapter." RCW 46.70.005, .021 (emphasis added). The trial court dismissed To-Ro's claims attacking the statute, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, denying relief under the Act. Recalling the Act's provision that "[a]ll orders, judgments and decrees under this chapter may be reviewed as other orders, judgments and decrees," we apply the customary principles of appellate review. RCW 7.24.070; see Nollette v. Christianson, 115 Wash.2d 594, 599-600, 800 P.2d 359 (1990)

. Because To-Ro has contested no factual findings but seeks reversal of the trial court's legal conclusions, our review of the trial court's denial of declaratory relief is de novo. Nollette, 115 Wash.2d at 600,

800 P.2d 359.

The Act provides in part that "[a] person ... whose rights, status or other legal relations are affected by a statute ... may have determined any question of construction or validity arising...

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