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SubjectsPlanning › Hearing Examiner System
Updated 06/2014

Hearing Examiner System

Contents

Introduction

This page provides information about the hearing examiner system in Washington jurisdictions. Cities and counties in Washington State have statutory authority to establish a hearing examiner system. Under a hearing examiner system, a city or county hires or contracts with a hearing examiner to conduct quasi-judicial hearings, usually in place of local bodies such as the planning commission, the board of adjustment, the board of county commissioners, or the city council. The basic purpose of having a hearing examiner conduct these hearings is to have a professionally-trained individual, typically an attorney, make objective quasi-judicial decisions that are supported by an adequate record and that are free from political influences. Using a hearing examiner system allows local legislative and advisory bodies that might otherwise conduct these hearings to better concentrate on policy-making. It can also potentially reduce local government liability exposure through what should be more consistent and legally-sustainable quasi-judicial decisions.

A board of county commissioners or a city council has considerable discretion in establishing how the hearing examiner system will operate. The position of hearing examiner (appointment, qualifications, termination, etc.), the type of issues the hearing examiner is authorized to consider and decide, and the effect of the hearing examiner's decisions are among the matters addressed by the local legislative body and set out in the enabling ordinance. Although counties and cities use hearing examiners primarily for hearing and deciding land use permit applications and/or administrative appeals of land use decisions, hearing examiners may also be used to conduct hearings and make recommendations or decisions on other local matters.

Legal References

Statutes and Regulations

  • RCW 35.63.130 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner system in first and second class cities and towns for certain zoning matters
  • RCW 35A.63.110 - Authorizes hearing examiner system as replacement for board of adjustment
  • RCW 35A.63.170 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner system in code cities for certain zoning matters
  • RCW 36.70.970 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner system in counties for certain zoning matters
  • RCW 58.17.330 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner system in cities and counties for hearing and issuing recommendations or decisions on preliminary plat
  • RCW 36.70B.020(3) - Defines open record hearings on project permit applications – hearing examiner may conduct
  • RCW 36.87.060(2) - Authorizes hearing examiner to conduct hearing on proposed county road vacation
  • LID/RID Hearings
    • RCW 35.43.140 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct hearing on proposed LID formation
    • RCW 35.44.070 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct LID assessment roll hearing
    • RCW 36.88.062 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct hearing on proposed RID formation
    • RCW 36.88.095 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct RID assessment roll
    • RCW 36.94.260 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct hearings on assessments for LID within the area of a sewerage and/or water general plan
  • RCW 46.55.240 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct hearings on abatement and removal of junk vehicles from private property
  • RCW 43.21C.075 - Authorizes use of a hearing examiner to conduct hearings on SEPA appeals
  • WAC 458-14-136 - Authorizes county boards of equalization to employ hearing examiner(s)

Court Decisions

  • Durland v. San Juan County, 174 Wn. App. 1 (2012) - The hearing examiner's authority is limited to that granted by the creating body.
  • Lanzce G. Douglass, Inc. v. City of Spokane Valley, 154 Wn. App. 408, review denied, 169 Wn.2d 1014 (2010) – An appellate court must give substantial deference to both the legal and factual determinations of a hearing examiner as the local authority with expertise in land use regulations. A hearing examiner authorized by local ordinance to hear appeals of SEPA determinations may reverse a threshold determination and remand for entry of a different threshold determination.
  • In re Jurisdiction of King County Hearing Examiner, 135 Wn. App. 312 (2006) – County code that states that the hearing examiner can grant an appeal with conditions does not give the examiner the authority to deny an appeal with conditions.
  • Exendine v. City of Sammamish, 127 Wn. App. 574 (2005) - The hearing examiner correctly decided he did not have authority to rule on the constitutional validity of criminal search warrants issued by the district court.
  • HJS Dev. v. Pierce County, 148 Wn.2d 451 (2003) – Hearing examiner had the authority under local ordinances to revoke the preliminary plat.
  • East Fork Hills Rural Ass'n v. Clark County, 92 Wn. App. 838 (1998) – Under RCW 36.70.970, which sets the parameters of a county’s hearing examiner system, the hearing examiner’s decision may be given the effect of a recommendation to the legislative authority, or it may be given the effect of an administrative decision appealable within a specified time limit to the legislative authority. The statute does not authorize a combination of these choices, and so the board of county commissioners must choose between original or appellate jurisdiction. Also, a remand to the hearing examiner on the basis of a factual issue is warranted only if the examiner's findings of fact are not supported by substantial evidence.
  • State v. County of Pierce, 65 Wn. App. 614, review denied, 120 Wn.2d 1008 (1992) - In the event the county legislative authority elects to adopt the hearing examiner system in land use matters, two options are available. In one, the examiner's decision is merely a recommendation and the decision is reserved to the county council. In the other, the county allows the examiner's decision to stand unless the decision is appealed within the specified time limits. In the event of an appeal, the county's legislative body may approve, reject, amend or alter the examiner's decision. There is nothing to suggest that the statute limits the county's legislative body's authority in the latter option.
  • Maranatha Mining, Inc. v. Pierce County, 59 Wn. App. 795 (1990) - RCW 36.70.970, which sets the parameters of a county’s hearing examiner system, requires that a county legislative body elect between original jurisdiction, which allows it to substitute its judgment for the examiner's on all factual and legal issues, and appellate jurisdiction, which requires that it base its decision on the record made before the examiner and review the examiner's findings of fact only to see if they are supported by substantial evidence. The statute does not authorize a combination of these choices, and a county legislative authority may not define its power in such a way as to incorporate aspects of both alternatives.
  • Chaussee v. Snohomish County Council, 38 Wn. App. 630 (1984) – Hearing examiner had no discretion to exempt a landowner from requirements of county ordinance based on what he deemed equitable, without regard to statutory requirements and the need for substantial evidence to meet statutory requirements.

Documents and General Information 

This section includes sample code provisions, rules of procedure, and links to hearing examiner websites in Washington communities.

Cities

Counties

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