A few days ago the Washington State Supreme Court filed its decision in Millie v. Transamerica Transnation, a decision in which the title company admitted that it missed an easement that materially reduced the value of the land purchased by the Millies. The Millies argued that the value was reduced by $100,000 by the easement and the title company claimed only a $25,000 reduction, but the landowners were awarded nothing.
At the end of the trial each side presented jury instructions and the judge selected those presented by the title company. The jury was confused by the instructions and returned a verdict that the title company had not breached its insurance contract and the plaintiffs were awarded nothing.
The property owners appealed and their appeal was eventually heard by the state’s highest court. The majority opinion was written by Justice Gonzalez, a meticulous jurist, who relied in large part on the Millies’ lawyer’s failure to specifically object to the title company’s instructions before they went to the jury. He also called attention to the lawyer’s untimely argument for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
Of particular interest to me was the dissenting opinion of Justice Stephens, the newest member of the Court and the sole dissenter. She identified a court rule that empowered the trial judge to correct the obvious error and said that the case should be returned to the trial judge “in the interest of justice.”
Justice Stephens in my view has been a very impressive addition to the Court.