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SEIU 775 v. State, Department of Social and Health Services

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

April 25, 2017

SEIU 775, a labor organization, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON, DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES, and EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION d/b/a FREEDOM FOUNDATION, Respondents.

          MAXA, A.C.J.

         The Freedom Foundation (Foundation) made a public records request to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) seeking the times and locations of contracting appointments and training presentations for individual providers (IPs), who provide personal care services to functionally disabled persons. SEIU 775, the union that represents the IPs, sought preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing DSHS from disclosing the requested information.

         SEIU appeals the trial court's denial of its request for an injunction. SEIU argues that provisions of the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA), chapter 41.56 RCW, provide an "other statute" exemption to the Public Records Act (PRA) under RCW 42.56.070(1) because DSHS's disclosure of the records to the Foundation would constitute an unfair labor practice in violation of the PECBA.

         We hold that the PECBA does not provide an "other statute" exemption under the PRA because it does not expressly prohibit or exempt the release of specific records or information. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's denial of SEIU's request for an injunction to prevent DSHS from disclosing the records the Foundation requested.

         FACTS

         SEIU is the collective bargaining representative in Washington for all IPs. The Foundation is a Washington-based organization with a stated purpose of educating public employees, including IPs, about their constitutional right not to join or pay dues to public sector unions.

         DSHS requires IPs to attend contracting appointments and safety and orientation training presentations. These meetings generally take place at DSHS facilities and are not open to the public. Under the collective bargaining agreement between SEIU and the State, the State provides time during these meetings for an SEIU representative to meet with the IPs.

         On January 12, 2016, the Foundation submitted a public records request to DSHS for certain information about meetings involving IPs. The request specifically sought "[t]he times and locations of all contracting appointments for individual providers" and "[t]he times and locations of any state-sponsored or facilitated opportunities for individual providers to view the initial safety and orientation training videos . . . held or to be held between November 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016." Clerk's Papers at 95.

         DSHS determined that it had responsive records and that the records were not subject to any exemptions preventing disclosure. DSHS notified SEIU of its intent to release the requested records to the Foundation.

         SEIU filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief, and then filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin DSHS from releasing the records. SEIU argued that the records were subject to an "other statute" exemption under the PRA, asserting that the PECBA is a statute that prohibits the disclosure of the requested records. SEIU believed, based on the Foundation's previous actions, that the Foundation sought the information about the IPs' meetings in order to show up at the meeting times and discourage the IPs from participating in the union.

         Pursuant to CR 65(a)(2), the trial court consolidated the hearing on SERTs preliminary injunction motion with a hearing on a permanent injunction. The court denied injunctive relief, ruling that SERJ failed to satisfy its burden of showing that an exemption to the PRA applied. The trial court exercised its equitable powers to restrain DSHS from releasing the records for 14 days, in order to allow SERJ to file an appeal.

         SERJ appealed the trial court's denial of a preliminary and permanent injunction. We subsequently enjoined DSHS from releasing the requested information until resolution of SERTs appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         A. PRA Disclosure

         The PRA mandates the broad disclosure of public records. John Doe A v. Wash. State Patrol, 185 Wn.2d 363, 371, 374 P.3d 63 (2016). Therefore, a state agency has an affirmative obligation to disclose records requested under the PRA unless a specific exemption applies. Id. at 371-72. And we must liberally construe the PRA in favor of disclosure and narrowly construe its exemptions. RCW 42.56.030; Wash. State Patrol, 185 Wn.2d at 371.

         Although the PRA encourages openness and transparency, the legislature has made certain records exempt from disclosure. Wash. State Patrol, 185 Wn.2d at 371. There are three sources of PRA exemptions: (1) enumerated exemptions contained in the PRA itself, (2) any "other statute" that exempts or prohibits disclosure as provided in RCW 42.56.070(1), and (3) the Washington Constitution. White v. Clark County,188 Wn.App. 622, 630-31, 354 P.3d 38 (2015), review denied,185 Wn.2d 1009 (2016). The party seeking to prevent disclosure of requested records has the burden of establishing that an exemption ...


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