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Washington State Post-Judgment Interest Award Required when Judgment Increased by Appellate Court in Records Case

The Division One Court of Appeals for the State of Washington held on August 15, 2011 that where an appellate court “merely modifies the trial court award and the only action necessary in the trial court is compliance with the mandate,” post-judgment interest retroactive to the date of the original judgment is mandatory.

More than a decade ago, Armen Yousoufian submitted a public records request to King County. When the county failed to comply, Yousoufian obtained a judgment under the state’s Public Records Act (PRA), which penalizes state agencies that do not comply by awarding the requester “an amount not less than five dollars and not to exceed one hundred dollars for each day” of non-compliance, in the discretion of the court.

Multiple appeals were filed in this case, but most relevant was a decision by the Washington Supreme Court affirming the appellate court’s reversal of the trial court’s $15-a-day award. See: Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims, County Executive, 168 Wn.2d 444, 229 P.3d 735 (Wash. 2010).

Rather than remanding, the Court increased the per-day award to $45. This increased the total award to Yousoufian to $371,340. King County had already paid $123,780, and following the Supreme Court’s decision it paid the balance of $247,560 plus $4,639.21 in post-judgment interest from the date of the Court’s ruling.

Yousoufian then filed a motion in the trial court seeking post-judgment interest on the additional amount awarded by the Supreme Court, retroactive to the date of the original judgment. The trial court denied the motion and Yousoufian appealed.

King County argued that it was entitled to sovereign immunity. The appellate court noted that under RCW 4.56.110, post-judgment interest is mandatory and retroactive where a judgment is wholly or partially affirmed on review. It also found that even if sovereign immunity would ordinarily apply in this circumstance, it was not applicable because it had been waived when the legislature enacted the PRA to hold the government accountable to the people. “To that end, the PRA provides for a cause of action against a government agency that violates its provisions, as well as monetary penalties, costs and attorney fees to the aggrieved member of the public,” the Court of Appeals wrote.

In rejecting King County’s position that an appellate court’s act of increasing a judgment amount on appeal does not mean the government agency is obligated to pay interest retroactively on the increased amount of the award, the Court of Appeals noted that the Washington Supreme Court had made no such distinction. In fact, case law provides for post-judgment interest to be awarded in such cases.

Finally, the appellate court held that Yousoufian was entitled to attorney fees and costs on appeal, and in the trial court for pursuing the motion for post-judgment interest. See: Yousoufian v. The Office of Ron Sims, County Executive, 163 Wash.App. 1008 (Wash.App. Div.1, 2011); 2011 WL 3568904.

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Related legal cases

Yousoufian v. The Office of Ron Sims, County Executive

Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims, County Executive