Attorneys for a Richland flower shop owner who refused to create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her religious beliefs argued Friday that claims against her in her personal capacity should be dropped.
Barronelle Stutzman was acting in her official role as a business owner, and the state attorney general’s office and the same-sex couple — who both have filed suit in Benton County Superior Court — “ask this court to expose not only her business assets but her personal assets,” said Kristen Waggoner, one of her attorneys, during an afternoon hearing.
State law and precedent “don’t permit the state to basically try to crush a private party who is acting in her official capacity. They’re going after her and attacking this grandmother, trying to get her personal assets,” Waggoner later told the Herald, saying it’s “unjust, punitive and unprecedented.”
Waggoner is senior counsel for the nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom.
Assistant Attorney General Kim Gunning from the Consumer Protection Division argued in court that the standard for liability for a wrongful act under the Consumer Protection Act is “well-established.”
“The standard is an individual is liable if he or she participated in the wrongful act or had knowledge of the wrongful act and approved of it. And both types — both prongs of that are met here,” Gunning said.
An attorney for the couple, Jake Ewart, added, “we’re not trying to broaden this language (in state anti-discrimination law), we’re just reading it and applying it here.”
“This is not unprecedented,” Ewart said.
Judge Alex Ekstrom didn’t make a decision on the summary judgment motion during Friday’s hearing. He’ll issue a ruling later.
The Arlene’s Flowers case, which has made national headlines, dates to 2013.
In March of that year, Stutzman declined to create flower arrangements for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, citing her relationship with Jesus Christ. Her religious beliefs prohibit her from participating in a same-sex wedding, she has said.
The state Attorney General’s office the next month filed a consumer protection suit against Stutzman and her Arlene’s Flowers.
Ingersoll and Freed also filed their own lawsuit.
Stutzman has counter -sued the state. That case now is in federal court.
Friday’s hearing lasted about 2 1/2 hours and also included arguments on whether the attorney general’s office has authority to bring its action.
Stutzman’s attorneys have argued the state’s suit is based on “an unprecedented interpretation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act” and “goes against the statutes’ specific terms and more than 30 years of prior agency practice by successive attorneys general.”
The attorney general’s office says it has broad authority under the Consumer Protection Act “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.”
Ekstrom didn’t decide on the authority issue Friday, with a ruling to come later.
A hearing to consider arguments on some other summary judgment motions is scheduled in two weeks.
At this time, trial is scheduled for March.