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Cases - Washington

In Ranger Insurance Company v. Pierce County, 2004 WL 1834650 (Wash. App. August 17, 2004) Ranger wrote two separate bonds for a defendant named Rogers.  The bail agent on both was Signature Bail Bonds, Inc. owned by Ray Hrdlicka.  Signature also wrote a bond for Rogers, and two bonds for another defendant, with Granite State Insurance Co. as the surety.  One of Ranger's bonds for Rogers was forfeited along with Granite's bonds.  Signature issued checks to pay the forfeitures but then called Ranger and said that it did not have the funds to pay and that both of Ranger's bonds had been forfeited.  Ranger paid the Clerk the face amount of its two bonds -- $35,000, and Signature stopped payment on its checks.  The Signature manager (James Barbieri) told the Clerk to apply the $35,000 to pay the forfeited Ranger bond ($15,000) and the forfeited Granite bonds.  After the defendants were recovered, Signature had the forfeitures set aside and told the Clerk that it had paid the forfeitures (using copies of the checks it stopped payment on as evidence) and the Clerk refunded the money to Signature.  Signature did not send any of it to Ranger.

 

Ranger sued the Clerk for negligence in applying the payment (which Ranger had designated for the cases on which it was surety) to the Granite bonds and for returning its money to Signature.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the Clerk on the theories that Signature was Ranger's agent and could direct how the payment was to be applied and receive the refunds on Ranger's behalf and that the Clerk had quasi-judicial immunity for negligent acts.

 

The Court of Appeals held that Signature had no actual authority to apply Ranger's money to Granite's obligation and that there were material issues of fact as Signature's apparent authority.  It also held that the Clerk was acting in a ministerial capacity and was not protected by quasi-judicial immunity.  It vacated the summary judgment and remanded the case.  A dissenting judge would have affirmed the trial court.


In State v. Surety Bankers Insurance Co., 2005 WL 583404 (Wash. App. March 14, 2005) the defendant was not apprehended in the 60 day period following forfeiture, and the surety paid the forfeiture.  A few days later, the defendant was arrested on a new charge.  The surety played no part in the arrest.  The trial court refused to remit any of the forfeiture.  The surety did not meet the statutory requirement for relief because it was not directly responsible for producing the defendant.  It argued that the court nevertheless had discretion to grant relief on equitable grounds.  The government argued that the statute foreclosed such equitable relief.  The Court of Appeals held that it did not need to reach the issue of whether equitable relief was possible because the trial court exercised its discretion and was within its discretion in denying the relief requested by the surety.

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