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Washington DOC Pays $2,306.22 in Prisoner PDA Suit

On October 17, 2001, the Washington Department of Corrections ("DOC") agreed to settle a suit filed against it pursuant to Washington's Public Disclosure Act ("PDA") for $2,306.22. The PDA, like its federal counterpart the Freedom of Information Act, requires all state agencies to disclose documents requested by any person making a records request within five business days, unless the records are exempt from disclosure under the statute. See RCW 42.17.320. If an agency fails to comply with the PDA, the record requestor may file suit in superior court to obtain the documents requested and a statutory penalty of between $5.00 and $100.00 per day for each day the records were withheld. See RCW 42.17.340(4). The record requestor may also recover his or her litigation expenses and attorney's fees.

On December 3, 2000, Brandt Sappenfield, a prisoner at the Airway Heights Corrections Center, near Spokane, Washington, mailed a letter to Kay Wilson-Kirby requesting copies of four certificates of discharge stemming from prior felony convictions. Ms. Wilson-Kirby is the DOC's Public Disclosure Officer and is responsible for overseeing all PDA records requests.

More than a month later, on January , 2001, Ms. Wilson-Kirby responded to Mr. Sappenfield's PDA request by forwarding it to Correctional Records Manager Shelly Helper for further action within seven business days. Despite several follow-up letters from Mr. Sappenfield, neither Ms. Wilson-Kirby nor Ms. Helper ever disclosed the documents requested, or claimed that they were exempt from disclosure under the PDA.

On May 31, 2001, Mr. Sappenfield filed suit in the Thurston County Superior Court, seeking disclosure of the documents requested, as well as a statutory penalty for the DOC's failure to comply with the PDA and his litigation expenses. After service of the complaint, the defendants' attorney, Assistant Attorney General Michael G. Ballnik, promptly disclosed the four documents requested. By the time Mr. Sappenfield received the documents, approximately 211 days had elapsed since his initial PDA request was received by the DOC, exposing the agency to a substantial statutory penalty. Ultimately, the DOC agreed to settle the suit for $2,306.22. Mr. Sappenfield was not represented by counsel. See Sappenfield v. Wilson-Kirby, et al., Thurston Co. Cause No. 01-2-00977-7 (Oct. 17, 2001).2001).

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Related legal case

Sappenfield v. Wilson-Kirby