WESCO Distribution, Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., No. 38309-4-I

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
Writing for the CourtCOX; The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Mortenson on certain claims that are not relevant to this appeal. The parties then proceeded to trial before the Honorable James D. McCutcheon on the remaining issues. On the day following the
Citation88 Wn.App. 712,946 P.2d 413
PartiesWESCO DISTRIBUTION, INC., a Delaware corporation, f/k/a Westinghouse Electric Supply Co., Appellant, v. M.A. MORTENSON COMPANY, a corporation; Board of Regents of the University of Washington; Federal Insurance Company; and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa, Respondents.
Decision Date10 November 1997
Docket NumberNo. 38309-4-I

Page 712

88 Wn.App. 712
946 P.2d 413
WESCO DISTRIBUTION, INC., a Delaware corporation, f/k/a
Westinghouse Electric Supply Co., Appellant,
v.
M.A. MORTENSON COMPANY, a corporation; Board of Regents of
the University of Washington; Federal Insurance
Company; and National Union Fire
Insurance Company of
Pittsburgh, Pa, Respondents.
No. 38309-4-I.
Court of Appeals of Washington,
Division 1.
Nov. 10, 1997.

Page 713

Alan Kenneth Willert, Hatch & Leslie, Seattle, for Appellant.

Dale R. Ulin, Ulin & Lambe, Seattle, for Respondents.

COX, Judge.

A trial judge in a nonjury case rendered an oral decision at the end of trial but died before entry of formal findings and conclusions. Could a successor judge enter judgment based on a transcript of the deceased judge's oral decision? We hold that under the circumstances of this case, the successor judge erred by entering judgment. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial.

This is a contest over the right to payment for electrical materials that Westinghouse Electric Supply Co. (WESCO) supplied to a public works construction project. M.A. Mortenson was the general contractor for the construction of the Physics/Astronomy building at the University of

Page 714

Washington. WESCO supplied materials to a subcontractor on the project. WESCO did not receive payment for the materials and commenced this action against Mortenson and its sureties to recover the debt.

[946 P.2d 414] The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Mortenson on certain claims that are not relevant to this appeal. The parties then proceeded to trial before the Honorable James D. McCutcheon on the remaining issues. On the day following the final argument of the parties, Judge McCutcheon announced his oral decision in favor of Mortenson. At the end of his oral decision, Judge McCutcheon directed Mortenson's attorney to prepare and present proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The judge also set a date for a hearing at a later time for entry of the proposed findings and conclusions.

Shortly before the date of the scheduled hearing, Judge McCutcheon died. Thereafter, Mortenson moved for entry of judgment based on a transcript of Judge McCutcheon's oral ruling. WESCO opposed this motion and moved for a new trial. A successor judge heard both motions and entered judgment in favor of Mortenson. WESCO appeals.

Disability of a Judge

WESCO first contends that the successor judge who heard the motions after Judge McCutcheon's death erred by entering judgment based on a transcript of Judge McCutcheon's oral ruling. We agree.

The ruling below was based on the successor judge's interpretation of CR 52 and CR 63 of the Civil Rules for Superior Court. The interpretation of these rules is a question of law that we review de novo. 1

CR 63(b) states that

[i]f by reason of death, sickness, or other disability, a judge before whom an action has been tried is unable to perform

Page 715

the duties to be performed by the court under these rules after a verdict is returned or findings of fact and conclusions of law are filed, then any other judge regularly sitting in or assigned to the court in which the action was tried may perform those duties; but if such other judge is satisfied that he cannot perform those duties because he did not preside at the trial or for any other reason, he may in his discretion grant a new trial.[ 2

CR 52(a)(1) states in relevant part that

[i]n all actions tried upon the facts without a jury or with an advisory jury, the court shall find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law.

CR 52(a)(4) states that

"[i]f a written opinion or memorandum of decision is filed, it will be sufficient if formal findings of fact and conclusions of law are included."[ 3

Generally, we apply rules of statutory construction when interpreting court rules. 4 But we do not resort to statutory construction if a rule is unambiguous. We determine its meaning from the language of the rule itself. 5

A successor judge's assumption of duties after another judge has suffered a disability is conditioned on either the return of a jury verdict or the entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law. 6 Thus, a successor judge may not undertake such duties where the predecessor in a bench trial did not enter findings of fact or conclusions of

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law pursuant to CR 52. The rule is unambiguous in this respect. We therefore turn to CR 52(a) to determine whether a transcript of an oral decision of a trial judge is sufficient in this case to constitute findings and conclusions.

One of the basic purposes for requiring a judge to enter findings and conclusions in a bench trial is to...

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8 practice notes
  • State v. McNearney, No. 32667–5–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • March 31, 2016
    ...rules. State v. Blilie, 132 Wash.2d 484, 492, 939 P.2d 691 (1997) ; WESCO Distrib., Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wash.App. 712, 715, 946 P.2d 413 (1997). If the court rule does not define a term, we determine the plain and ordinary meaning from a standard dictionary. State v. Taylor, 150 ......
  • In re Marriage of Evans v. Evans, No. 32357-5-II (WA 12/20/2005), No. 32357-5-II.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 20, 2005
    ...parenting issues is a question of law, which we review de novo. See DGHI, 137 Wn.2d at 938; WESCO Distr., Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wn. App. 712, 714, 946 P.2d 413 (1997). If we agree with Judge Laurie that Judge Majhan met the requirements of CR 63(b), we then review Judge Laurie's de......
  • Vatne v. Vatne (In re Vatne), 82417-1-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 13, 2022
    ...1154 (2014). A rule's plain meaning governs our interpretation unless it is ambiguous. WESCO Distribution, Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wn.App. 712, 715, 946 P.2d 413 (1997). The Civil Rules govern superior court procedure "in all suits of a civil nature whether cognizable as cases at law......
  • STANLEY v. COLE, No. 64922-1-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 27, 2010
    ...Rules Practice CR 1 author's cmts. at 10 (5th ed. 2006); see also, WESCO Distrib., Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wash.App. 712, 717, 946 P.2d 413 (1997) (federal case law not persuasive in interpreting CR 52(a)(4) because language of federal rule counterpart differed). Because the federal ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • State v. McNearney, No. 32667–5–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • March 31, 2016
    ...rules. State v. Blilie, 132 Wash.2d 484, 492, 939 P.2d 691 (1997) ; WESCO Distrib., Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wash.App. 712, 715, 946 P.2d 413 (1997). If the court rule does not define a term, we determine the plain and ordinary meaning from a standard dictionary. State v. Taylor, 150 ......
  • In re Marriage of Evans v. Evans, No. 32357-5-II (WA 12/20/2005), No. 32357-5-II.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 20, 2005
    ...parenting issues is a question of law, which we review de novo. See DGHI, 137 Wn.2d at 938; WESCO Distr., Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wn. App. 712, 714, 946 P.2d 413 (1997). If we agree with Judge Laurie that Judge Majhan met the requirements of CR 63(b), we then review Judge Laurie's de......
  • Vatne v. Vatne (In re Vatne), 82417-1-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 13, 2022
    ...1154 (2014). A rule's plain meaning governs our interpretation unless it is ambiguous. WESCO Distribution, Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wn.App. 712, 715, 946 P.2d 413 (1997). The Civil Rules govern superior court procedure "in all suits of a civil nature whether cognizable as cases at law......
  • STANLEY v. COLE, No. 64922-1-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 27, 2010
    ...Rules Practice CR 1 author's cmts. at 10 (5th ed. 2006); see also, WESCO Distrib., Inc. v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 88 Wash.App. 712, 717, 946 P.2d 413 (1997) (federal case law not persuasive in interpreting CR 52(a)(4) because language of federal rule counterpart differed). Because the federal ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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