M&S Victory for Washington State Homeowners; M&S Advocates for Iranian Americans Affected by the Travel Ban EO
Washington State Court Rules in Favor of Homeowners
In February, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s consumer protection statute imposes a duty on sellers to be honest and forthright, and rejected a call to impose the burden of discovery on consumers, which would have returned the state to the days of “caveat emptor.” M&S is proud to have obtained this important ruling on a core principle of consumer protection law.
M&S’s clients are purchasers of homes on Whidbey Island, which is in the Puget Sound, north of Seattle. In additional to being a popular retirement and tourist destination, the island is also home to a Naval Air Station, which only began more noisy and disruptive flights after plaintiffs purchased their homes. The noise from these flights often exceeded 100 decibels. Plaintiffs filed their complaint in 2014, seeking damages and injunctive relief under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, or CPA. They alleged that Windermere Real Estate/Center-Isle, Inc. and RE/Max Acorn Properties, Inc. failed to give them – and other prospective home purchasers on Whidbey Island – a required Island County disclosure relating to air traffic and potential noise from Navy operations.
In 2015, a trial court dismissed the claims, finding that owners were on notice of the existence of the Navy planes, and thus had a duty to inquire and discover the full extent of the possible noise and future Navy operations. Before the plaintiffs even had an opportunity to collect evidence, the trial court improperly made factual findings about what the plaintiffs would have learned about the Navy flights if they had spoken with people in the neighborhood.
Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the CPA is unlike older, common law legal remedies, and does not require consumers to discover what a seller fails to tell them – especially where there is a legally required disclosure that was not given. This is exactly why the CPA, and similar state consumer protection statutes, have been enacted all over the country: to protect vulnerable consumers from sellers who know much more about the product or service they are selling.
The appeals court agreed with Plaintiffs, ruling that caveat emptor is not the law of Washington state, and that there is no “duty to inquire” on home buyers or other consumers claiming a violation of the CPA.
This ruling is a great victory for homebuyers and all Washington State consumers. If the trial court ruling had been allowed to stand, it would have allowed sellers and merchants to hide material information in transactions, and place the burden of learning the truth facts on consumers.
“Requiring merchants to be honest is good for everyone,” remarked Steve Skalet. “It allows businesses to compete on a level playing field, and means that consumers can be confident they receive accurate information when making purchase decisions.”
Travel Ban Lawsuit will Get its Day in Court
Hearings for the lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s travel ban Executive Order are scheduled for this week. The first hearing in the case, during which representatives of the Iranian-American organizations will testify, will take place in federal court in Washington, D.C. on April 18th, 2017 at 2 pm. This will be the first time live testimony will occur in any of the Travel Ban cases. The second hearing, which will consist of oral argument by the attorneys for Plaintiffs and the Government, will be held at 2 pm on April 21, 2017.
Mehri & Skalet originally filed a case in federal court back in early February, teaming up with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and pro bono counsel, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, on behalf of the Pars Equality Center, the Iranian American Bar Association, the National Iranian American Council, and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans as well as over 15 individual plaintiffs.
In March, M&S filed an amended complaint based on the revised EO and updated the lawsuit to include 15 individual declarations providing a unique and compelling factual record on the ongoing harm to the Iranian American community.