Argued June 10, 2014
Appeal from Pierce Superior Court. 08-2-05892-7. Honorable James R. Orlando.
Heidi Wachter, City Attorney, and Matthew S. Kaser, Assistant, for petitioner.
William J. Crittenden, for respondent.
Daniel B. Heid, Steven L. Gross, and Kathleen J. Haggard on behalf of Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys, amicus curiae.
Ramsey E. Ramerman on behalf of Washington Association of Public Records Officers, amicus curiae.
Michele L. Earl-Hubbard on behalf of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, Washington Newspapers Publishers Association, and Washington Coalition for Open Government, amici curiae.
AUTHOR: Justice Steven C. González. WE CONCUR: Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Mary I. Yu. AUTHOR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen. WE CONCUR: Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud.
[182 Wn.2d 90] González,
¶ 1 Our Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW, provides attorney fees to those who must resort to the courts to vindicate either their right to inspect public records or their right to receive a response to a records request. An agency violates a requestor's right to receive a response when it withholds or redacts public records without articulating a specific applicable exemption and providing a " brief explanation of how the exemption applies to the record withheld." RCW 42.56.210(3). We are asked to decide whether the city of Lakewood's explanation for redacting driver's license numbers from records produced for David Koenig was inadequate and, if so, whether Koenig is entitled to attorney fees. We hold that the city's response was inadequate and Koenig is entitled to fees.
¶ 2 In October 2007, Koenig requested three sets of records from the city of Lakewood. He requested (1) records about the arrest and prosecution of a Lakewood police detective in January 2005 for patronizing a prostitute, (2) records about a November 2006 auto accident in the city of Fife, where a Fife police officer struck a pedestrian with his patrol car and the Lakewood Police Department assisted with the investigation, and (3) records about Tacoma police officer Michael Justice's 1998 arrest and subsequent prosecution on fourth degree assault charges.
¶ 3 In November 2007, the city advised Koenig by letter that responsive records were available for review and pickup. The city redacted, among other things, driver's license numbers from various types of documents it produced. The city justified the redaction of driver's license numbers by citation to statutes:
[182 Wn.2d 91] Records pertaining to the arrest and prosecution of a Lakewood Police Detective on or around 1/25/05
[The detective's] Driver's License number has been redacted pursuant to RCW 46.52.120 and RCW 46.52.130.
Records Pertaining to Fife Collision.
The City is making available the investigation about an auto accident that occurred in the City of Fife in November of 2006. The City ...