OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee had the legal authority to issue emergency orders in an attempt to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a state Supreme Court commissioner said Thursday.
In a strongly worded opinion, Commissioner Michael E. Johnston dismissed a lawsuit filed last month by four owners of health clubs, who claimed Inslee overstepped his powers by putting them under “house arrest” and selecting which businesses are essential and which are nonessential.
Johnston rejected their request for a writ of mandamus – an order from the court to another branch of government to follow the law – saying the actions the group cited were all within Inslee’s discretion under the state’s emergency powers law.
“Although petitioners deserve empathy for the struggles they and their businesses currently face in relation to this public health emergency, they ask this court to do what it cannot: control the governor’s discretionary actions,” he wrote.
Some of the group’s claims were frivolous, such as the suggestion Inslee declared martial law or that they were under “house arrest,” Johnston wrote. They are able to leave their homes to shop for food and engage in limited recreational activities.
“A proclamation that leaves persons free to a walk in the park or visit the grocery store while engaged in social distancing is not tantamount to house arrest,” Johnston wrote.
At least one of the people making the request along with the lawyer who filed it and a group of supporters assembled on the steps of the Temple of Justice to announce they had filed the request, he noted.
They were also asking the court to declare the statutes the governor used for his emergency proclamation unconstitutional, but that can’t be done with a writ of mandamus.
“They see relief by way of the wrong vehicle in the wrong forum,” Johnston wrote, adding the request is “so completely devoid of merit that the best use of judicial resources is to summarily dismiss it.”