In re Citizen Complaint by Stout v. Felix (Majority and Concurrence)Annotate this Case
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a citizen’s affidavit was sufficient to initiate criminal proceedings under the citizen complaint rule, CrRLJ 2.1(c). Geene Felix was a Washington Department of Social and Health Services social worker who was involved in child welfare matters regarding Thomas Stout’s two children. In 2016, Felix signed two dependency petitions under penalty of perjury, alleging that Stout’s children were dependent. Stout disputed Felix’s factual account in the dependency petitions., alleging that Felix committed the crime of false swearing when she made certain statements in the petitions. The crime of false swearing is a gross misdemeanor with a two-year statute of limitations. In 2018, one day short of two years after Felix filed the dependency petitions, Stout filed an affidavit of complaining witness seeking to institute a citizen complaint against Felix. The court issued a summons notice to Felix, and a probable cause hearing was set for two weeks later. At the December hearing, the court first considered the timeliness issue. Felix argued that a criminal action can be commenced only by the filing of an indictment or complaint, which must be done within the statute of limitations. The court agreed with Felix and ruled that “[a] criminal action is commenced by filing a complaint.” Therefore, because Stout did not file a criminal complaint within the two-year statute of limitations, the court dismissed his citizen complaint as untimely. The court did not reach the merits of the case, and denied reconsideration. He then sought review in the Court of Appeals, and the commissioner denied discretionary review. The Court of Appeals also denied his request to modify the commissioner’s ruling. The Supreme Court commissioner granted discretionary review. The Washington Supreme Court held that under CrRLJ 2.1, criminal proceedings were indeed initiated by the filing of a criminal complaint, and an affidavit under CrRLJ 2.1(c) was only part of the citizen’s request for the court’s approval to file the complaint. Here, the criminal complaint was not filed before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the citizen complaint as untimely.