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SPOKANE — A Chelan County court wrongly dismissed a cannabis grower's lawsuit against the county over zoning violations, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The higher court decision in the case of Evergreen Production v. Chelan County breaks some new legal ground, finding that email is a sufficient method to serve legal notice in a land use petition case. Indeed, Appellate Judge George Fearing wrote for the three-judge panel, "Acceptance of service by e-mail constitutes a trustier method of service than first-class mail."

Evergreen Production manages a Monitor growing operation, which Chelan County cited in 2017 with a number of land use violations. At the time, the county had just adopted strict zoning and setback codes for cannabis producers, which many growers argued would put them out of the business if enforced.

When Evergreen appealed, a hearing examiner ruled in favor of the county. Two partner firms in the Evergreen enterprise, RST Partnership and NSJB Enterprise Inc., filed near-identical Land Use Petition Act lawsuits to have the case heard in Superior Court. Lawyers for the two parties agreed to receive legal service of each other's filings in the case by email, and did not notify each other by traditional certified letter or process service.

Chelan County prosecutors argued the email notification did not amount to proper legal service of a LUPA petition. Judge Lesley Allan agreed, and dismissed the growers' petition in January 2018.

Fearing wrote that other civil actions allow for email service, and a LUPA petition is no different. "Based on the universal usage of electronic mail, we also hold that a party or its attorney may accept service by e-mail," he wrote.

The growers' LUPA petition must be re-argued in Chelan County Superior Court. No date for a new hearing has been set.

Jefferson Robbins: 679-7013

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