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Washington State Court of Appeals Upholds Denial of Prisoner's Public Record Claim

Washington State prisoner Shawn D. Greenhalgh, pro se, appealed a summary judgment by the trial court. Greenhalgh alleged that the Washington State Office of the Attorney General (AGO) improperly denied his Public Record Act (PRA) request because AGO failed to provide e-mail "Metadata." He also claimed that he was improperly and excessively charged for the records. He also felt entitled to attorney fees.

Washington State Court of Appeals reviewed Greenhalgh's allegations. His PRA submission to AGO pertained to AGO's support of new legislation to limit inmates' access to PRA. The request was forwarded to AGO public records officer Jerome Lord. After series of correspondence were exchanged, Lord compiled 181 pages of responsive documents and requested a payment of $0.10/page plus $4.60 for postage, totaling $22.70. Greenhalgh modified his request to only certain pages, which the AGO sent without receiving payment and closed the request.

Greenhalgh made a subsequent request for the remaining pages that AGO had identified from the first request, which were 132 pages. AGO determined the cost to be $21.11. This sum was also never paid. He then requested an electronic format of these documents. The cost of the compact disc, postage, scanning setup, and sleeve cover totaled $27.90. Greenhalgh only paid $14.82 ($12.50 for the scan setup and remainder for the records requested, postage, CD, and CD sleeve).

Later, Greenhalgh submitted another request for documents, using specific parameters for anything related to Washington State Department of Corrections inmate petitions dated between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2008. Lord, with the assistance of his supervisor Bordnar, searched several records system, but the search produced no results.

Greenhalgh then used prisoner George to make a similar request from the AGO. Again, the search yielded no records. AGO notified George, who then provided additional parameters that allowed the search to be expanded and thus produced results. Greenhalgh filed a suit against AGO in regards to preferential treatment on the PRA request. However, the Court acknowledged that AGO's Lord and his supervisor Bordnar searched more than one record system (email vault system and CMS) for Greenhalgh's request. "The adequacy of a search is judged by a standard of reasonableness, that is, the search must be reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents," Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County v. County of Spokane, 261 P.3d 119 (Wash. 2011).

The court ruled that AGO responded and produced Greenhalgh's requests and the fees were consistent with the standard cost applied by AGO therefore affirmed the summary judgment. See: Greenhalgh v. Washington State Office of the Attorney General, 165 Wash.App. 1007 (Wash.App. Div. 2, 2011).

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Related legal case

Greenhalgh v. Washington State Office of the Attorney General