In a unanimous ruling, the high court upheld earlier findings that a Federal Way police officer should have done more when he served an anti-harassment order on "Paul" Chan Kim in front of the woman the order was supposed to protect, Kim's partner Baerbel K. Roznowski. Kim fatally stabbed Roznowski shortly after the officer left their home.
Writing for the court, Justice Mary Fairhurst said Federal Way police owed Roznowski more than the service they delivered.
The officer should have known domestic violence offenders are most likely to lash out when their victims are breaking away, Fairhurst said in the ruling, and that Kim and Roznowski should not have been left in the home together after the anti-harassment order was served.
Because police are bound by law to serve such orders, they have a duty to take reasonable care while doing so, Fairhurst continued. The Federal Way officer failed in that.
"We have long recognized that where a municipal entity owes a duty to specific individuals, it must not discharge this duty negligently," Fairhurst said for the unanimous court.
Leaving cities open to civil lawsuits when they fail to act reasonably, she continued, creates an incentive for them to do so.
After more than a decade in a tumultuous relationship with Kim, Roznowski was breaking things off in late April 2008 when she obtained the anti-harassment order following a fight at the couple's Federal Way home.
The day she was killed, Roznowski and Kim were in the home when a Federal Way officer arrived to serve the anti-harassment order, which would have barred Kim from contacting Roznowski. The order said Kim would likely react violently when served and had previously assaulted Roznowski.
Kim answered on May 3, 2009, when the officer knocked on the door. According to the high court opinion, the officer saw Roznowksi inside the home but didn't try to speak with her; the officer simply confirmed Kim's identity, handed him the order and told him when to come to court before leaving.
"Roznowski was left to explain to Kim what had happened - she had restrained him from contacting her and he needed to vacate the home," Fairhurst said in the ruling.
Following an argument, Kim left to run an errand before returning to stab Roznowski. Kim then tried to kill himself but failed.
Kim was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He is currently housed at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Roznowski's daughters filed a lawsuit the following year claiming Federal Way police failed to protect their mother. A King County jury agreed and awarded a $1.1 million judgment against the city; the jury verdict was upheld by an appellate court before the case came before the Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the city argued the Federal Way officer acted correctly, and that police should not be held responsible for crimes committed by others outside extraordinary circumstances. A Seattle Police Department sergeant was among those who testified at trial that the Federal Way officer correctly served the order.
Writing the court for the city, attorneys Robert L. Christie and Thomas Miller argued Roznowski knew police weren't going to protect her from Kim when she obtained the anti-harassment order.
"There is no evidence that any Federal Way employee told Ms. Roznowski the serving officer would remain on the premises while Mr. Kim packed his belongings, escort Mr. Kim off her property, or otherwise ensure that Mr. Kim would not return to her residence after he left that day," the attorneys said in a brief filed with the court.
"She knew that Mr. Kim would be surprised by the order, and that the surprise may cause some commotion," they continued. "She also knew that her only recourse for any non-compliance by Mr. Kim was to call 911."
Contending the city remained misrepresented the facts in its appeal to the Supreme Court, the attorneys representing Roznowski's family described her slaying as "preventable."
"The City of Federal Way chooses not to advise this Court of the real facts of its negligence, and instead tries to hide the fact that its officers had not read the contents of the pleadings they were serving on a person who had a history of being unstable, violent, and likely to retaliate upon Roznowski upon being told to leave her home," attorneys Phil Talmadge, John Connelly and Nathan Roberts said in court papers.
"The City's petition for review is disturbing for its studied indifference to the facts, its continued insensitivity to the importance of civil anti-harassment orders, and its mischaracterization of the procedure below both at trial and in the Court of Appeals."
Siding with Roznowski's family, the Supreme Court found police are required to take reasonable care when performing tasks assigned them.
"The legislature has acted and required police officers to serve anti-harassment orders as the default means of service," Fairhurst said in the ruling. "The City had a duty to act here, and this duty required the City to act in a reasonable manner."
The lawsuit drew opinions from several legally oriented organizations, including the Northwest Justice Project, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Washington Women Lawyers.
While a state organization for civil defense attorneys sided with the city, most argued the court should direct police to better protect domestic violence victims attempting to break away from their abusers. In a brief supporting Roznowski's family, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington argued international law requires more from police.