Harper v. Washington (Majority)Annotate this Case
Scottye Miller murdered his longtime girlfriend, Tricia Patricelli, 15 days after he was released from prison on Department of Corrections (DOC)-supervised probation. Patricelli, Patricelli's family and friends, and DOC—knew that Miller had physically abused Patricelli in the past and would likely do so again if they resumed their relationship. Patricelli hid the renewed relationship from her friends, family members, and DOC. In fact, Patricelli explicitly assured DOC that she was not in a relationship with Miller, that she was moving to a place where he could not find her, and that she would call the police if she saw him. Miller's mother also verified in writing that he was sleeping at her home, though it turns out that he was actually living with Patricelli. The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether DOC was liable for Patricelli's death, despite Patricelli's, Miller's, and his mother's active and successful efforts to prevent DOC from knowing that Miller was in contact with Patricelli. The parties agree that DOC had a duty to supervise Miller while he was on probation and that DOC was not liable unless its supervision constituted “gross negligence.” The parties disagreed on whether DOC’s actions rose to the level of gross negligence. The trial court dismissed on summary judgment, finding the DOC’s failure to take additional steps to verify Patricelli’s statement’s or Miller’s housing arrangements could qualify as gross negligence. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment for DOC. Tricia Patricelli’s Estate failed to produce sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact on the question of gross negligence.