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Washington Public Employees Association v. Washington State Center For Childhood Deafness & Hearing Loss

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

October 31, 2017

WASHINGTON PUBLIC EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, UFCW LOCAL 365, a labor organization, and PROFESSIONAL & TECHNICAL EMPLOYEES LOCAL 17, a labor organization, Petitioners,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE CENTER FOR CHILDHOOD DEAFNESS & HEARING LOSS, and EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION d/b/a FREEDOM FOUNDATION, et al. Respondents. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, LOCAL 76, a labor organization, and UNITED ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 32, a labor organization, Petitioners,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON, WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR & INDUSTRIES, and EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION d/b/a FREEDOM FOUNDATION, Respondents. TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 117, a labor organization, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON; CHRISTOPHER LIU, in his capacity as DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF ENTERPRISE SERVICES; DICK MORGAN, in his capacity as SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; and EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION d/b/a FREEDOM FOUNDATION, Respondents. SERVICE EMPLOYEES FNTERNATIONAL UNION HEALTHCARE 1199NW, a labor organization, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON; DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES, an agency of the State of Washington; DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, an agency of the State of Washington; and EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION d/b/a FREEDOM FOUNDATION, an organization, Respondents. WASHINGTON FEDERATION OF STATE EMPLOYEES, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON; et al; and THE EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION d/b/a FREEDOM FOUNDATION, Respondents.

          SUTTON, J.

         We are asked to determine whether the right to privacy guaranteed in Washington Constitution article I, section 7 protects state employees' full names associated with their corresponding birthdates from public disclosure. Several unions representing state employees[1] appeal the superior court's order denying their motions for a permanent injunction preventing the state agencies from disclosing information about their employees in response to a public records request by the Freedom Foundation.

         We hold that article I, section 7 protects from public disclosure state employees' full names associated with their corresponding birthdates. Based on our holding, the trial court erred by denying the unions' motions for a permanent injunction preventing the release of the state employees' names associated with their corresponding birthdates.[2]

         FACTS

         The Freedom Foundation (Foundation) is a non-profit political organization. One aspect of the Foundation's campaign is its worker education project to inform eligible state employees that they have a constitutional right to opt-out of paying union dues. In 2016, to further its project, the Foundation sent Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW, requests to various state agencies[3]requesting disclosure of union represented employees' full names, birthdates, and work email addresses.

         The agencies reviewed the Foundation's PRA requests, determined that all the requested records were disclosable and indicated that, absent a court order, they intended to release the requested records including the employees' full names associated with their corresponding birthdates and the employees' work email addresses.

         The unions filed motions for temporary and permanent injunctions to prevent the disclosure of the requested records. The superior court granted the motions for a temporary injunction to prevent the agencies from disclosing most of the requested records. After a hearing on the motions for a permanent injunction, the superior court concluded that no exemptions under the PRA applied to the requested records and it denied the motions for a permanent injunction.

         The unions appealed and filed an emergency motion for a stay with this court. A commissioner of this court granted the motion for a stay only as to the state employees' full names associated with their corresponding birthdates.

         ANALYSIS

         I. PRA Injunctions-Legal Principles

         We review challenges to an agency action under the PRA de novo. RCW 42.56.550(3); Resident Action Council v. Seattle Hous. Auth., 117 Wn.2d 417, 428, 327 P.3d 600 (2013). "Where the record consists only of affidavits, memoranda of law, and other documentary evidence, an appellate court stands in the same position as the trial court in reviewing agency action challenged under the PRA." Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd, LLP v. Office of the Attorney Gen., 179 Wn.App. 711, 719-20, 328 P.3d 905 (2014).

         The PRA mandates the broad disclosure of public records. Resident Action Council, 117 Wn.2d at 431. RCW 42.56.030 expressly requires that the PRA be "liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed ... to assure that the public interest will be fully protected." When evaluating a PRA claim, we must "take into account the policy of [the PRA] that free and open examination of public records is in the public interest, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others." RCW 42.56.550(3).

         Under RCW 42.56.070(1), a government agency must disclose public records upon request unless a specific exemption in the PRA applies or some other statute applies that exempts or prohibits disclosure of specific information or records. Ameriquest Mortg. Co. v. Office of the Attorney Gen., 117 Wn.2d 467, 485-86, 300 P.3d 799 (2013). RCW 42.56.540 allows one to seek an injunction to prevent the disclosure of public records under the PRA. RCW 42.56.540 states:

The examination of any specific public record may be enjoined if, upon motion and affidavit by an agency or its representative or a person who is named in the record or to whom the record specifically pertains, the superior court. . . finds that such examination would clearly not be in the public interest and would substantially and irreparably ...

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