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Washington Supreme Court Holds Ongoing Contempt Not Required to Impose Sanctions for Violating Injunction Against Releasing Sex Offender Records

Washington State Department of Corrections prisoner (DOC) Derek Gronquist was convicted of violent sexual offenses in 1988 and participated in sex offender treatment until 1991. In King v. Riveland, 886 P.2d 160 (1994), the court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the DOC from releasing sex offender treatment records as they contain extensive medical and personal information. Gronquist was not a named plaintiff, but was a class member.

When Gronquist was nearing release, the DOC referred him to the King County prosecutor for possible commitment as a sexually violent predator. The prosecutor requested and received at least some of his treatment records.

Gronquist filed a civil contempt motion against the DOC and prosecutor for releasing his treatment records. For relief, he requested a list of all breaches of the injunction, his transfer to community custody, destruction of the improperly disclosed information, at least $500 per day per contemptor, disqualification of a potential expert witness, court costs and attorney fees.

Before considering the motion, the trial court prospectively invalidated the injunction with respect to Gronquist. It then dismissed the motion as moot for lack of ongoing contempt. Gronquist appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the motion was not moot because a compensatory order for losses and attorney fees could still be awarded. The DOC and prosecutor were granted review by the Supreme Court.

On en banc de novo review, the Supreme Court held that continuing contempt is not a prerequisite to granting relief under RCW 7.21.030(3). Therefore, the trial court erred when it dismissed the motion as moot for lack of ongoing contempt. However, RCW 7.21.030(3) is limited to an order to pay losses suffered as a result of the contempt and costs, including attorney fees, incurred in connection with contempt proceedings.

The court held that Gronquist was limited to the remedies in RCW 7.21.030(3) because the trial court invalidated the injunction prospectively with respect to him. Thus there was no ongoing contempt — effectively extinguishing any other remedies. He did not challenge that order on appeal.

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Related legal case

Gronquist v. Dep’t of Corr.