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Washington Public Records Act Dismissal Reversed

The Washington state Court of Appeals reversed a trial court's dismissal of a claimed Public Records Act (PRA) violation. The court also held that Plaintiff was entitled to costs and penalties for the County's failure to timely produce the requested records.

Relying on Washington's PRA, "Arthur West asked Thurston County for copies of the attorney fee invoices submitted by Lee, Smart, Cook, Martin & Patterson, PS, Inc., for its defense of the County in Broyles v. Thurston County, Mason County Superior Court cause number 04-2-00411-3." The County refused and West brought suit against the County, the law firm and a lawyer who represented the County in Broyles. West alleged breach of contract and PRA violations and sought relief under the Declaratory Judgments Act.

The County then produced copies of the first $250,000 in requested attorney invoices, claiming that it possessed only those invoices up to the $250,000 insurance deductible. The subject-matter was redacted from the records, which reflected only the dates of service, the time keepers and the amount of time billed by each timekeeper on a daily basis.

The trial court dismissed West's claims and the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the breach of contract claim, finding that West had no standing to assert such a claim since he was not a party to the contract.

The court reversed the dismissal of the PRA claim, acknowledging that: the PRA mandates full disclosure; the disclosure must be timely; penalties for late disclosures are mandatory; and "Government agencies may not resist disclosure of public records until a suit is filed and then, by disclosing them voluntarily, avoid paying fees and penalties."
The Court held that "the trial court erred in ruling that the County was not required to disclose the attorney invoices at issue under the" PRA. It also concluded that "West is entitled to costs and penalties because the County did not disclose them until after he filed this action." See: West v. Thurston County, 183 P. 3d 346, 144 Wash. App. 573 (2008).

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Related legal case

West v. Thurston County