OLYMPIA — Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom heard arguments today on three summary judgment motions filed in the Attorney General’s Office’s consumer protection case against Arlene’s Flowers, a Richland florist, and its owner and operator, Barronelle Stutzman.
In April 2013, the Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts and Stutzman after she refused to provide wedding flowers to longtime customer Robert Ingersoll, who was planning his wedding to his partner, Curt Freed. Stutzman refused to serve him based on her opposition to marriage between people of the same sex.
Before filing the lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Stutzman asking her to comply with Washington law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Her attorneys responded that she would challenge any state action to enforce the law in her case.
The motions the court heard today involve two issues. First, whether Stutzman can be found individually liable under the Consumer Protection Act. Second, whether the Attorney General’s Office has authority under the Consumer Protection Act to bring this case.
None of the motions heard today touch on the merits of the case. Additional motions filed by the parties that address the merits of the case are set for hearing before Judge Ekstrom on December 19.
At the hearing today, the state argued that under the Consumer Protection Act, any person can be liable for unfair or deceptive practices if they participate in these practices or have knowledge of the wrongful acts and approve them. The Attorney General’s Office also argued the act gives it broad authority to take action against unfair or deceptive acts that occur in trade or commerce, including, as in this case, a refusal to provide services to a consumer based on his or her sexual orientation.
Judge Ekstrom is considering the motions and did not issue any rulings today.
The state is asking for a permanent injunction requiring Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers to comply with the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
Senior Counsel Todd Bowers and Assistant Attorney General Kim Gunning of the Consumer Protection Division are handling this case and appeared on behalf of the Attorney General at the hearing.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Acting Communications Director