You may recall prior blog posts on Equitable Estoppel expressly provided for in certain contexts within the agency’s own rules [see the most recent link and summary below].

But what about when an agency’s rules do not expressly provide for an Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”] to consider equitable estoppel?

Washington has held that under the Administrative Procedure Act [“APA”], an ALJ has implied authority to consider equitable defenses, such as equitable estoppel.  So long as the equitable defense is not a separate action in equity, then the proceeding is not converted into an equitable action and the tribunal has authority to consider the equitable defense.  Equitable estoppel is not available for offensive use but only in context of a defense, as a shield and not a sword.  

Further, the defense must be raised in the administrative proceeding unless there is a statutory exception that applies under RCW 34.05.554 to permit it to be raised for the first time in a petition for judicial review.

In this context, equitable estoppel subscribes to the principle that a person shall not be permitted to deny what the Department has once solemnly acknowledged.  Where justice so requires, the application of equitable estoppel against a government agency may be warranted and will be applied if the equities are clearly balanced in favor of the party seeking relief. 

“A party asserting equitable estoppel against a state agency must show evidence of (1) an admission, statement, or act inconsistent with its earlier claim; (2) reliance on the statement; (3) injury to the relying party if the agency were allowed to contradict or repudiate its earlier admission; (4) the necessity of estoppel to prevent a manifest injustice; and (5) no impairment of government functions if estoppel is applied.”  Ruland v. State, Dept. of Social and Health Services, 144 Wn.App. 263, 277, 182 P.3d 470 (2008).

To the extent the agency acknowledges that the APA governs your hearing, where its rules are intended to supplement the APA adopted the office of administrative hearings [“OAH”], then you should consider whether you need to raise this defense, if the facts support it.

Prior Post:

Equitable estoppel in administrative law

Posted December 1st, 2017 by Seth Rosenberg & filed under Administrative Law.

From time to time licensees find that a DSHS representative is contradicting something that he or she said previously. The law imposes limits on the extent to which DSHS can… Read more »


Motley-Motley, Inc. v. State, 127 Wn. App. 62, 74, 110 P.3d 812 (2005).

Byrd v. Pierce Cty., 5 Wn.App.2d 249, 259, 425 P.3d 948, 953 (2018), citing Greaves v. Med. Imaging Sys., Inc., 124 Wash.2d 389, 397, 879 P.2d 276 (1994).

  • 44:17.Defenses—Equitable estoppel, 15 Wash. Prac., Civil Procedure § 44:17 (2d ed.)

Ruland v. State, Dept. of Social and Health Services, 144 Wn.App. 263, 277, 182 P.3d 470 (2008)— Ruland noted that DSHS had a specific rule on this doctrine, under WAC 388-02-0495 but proceeded to apply the common law elements.

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