courts have broad discretion to select appropriate penalties
for violations of Washington's Public Records Act (PRA),
chapter 42.56 RCW. In limited cases, we will overturn a trial
court's exercise of authority on appeal. But this is not
one of them. After finding Kittitas County and the Kittitas
County Sheriff's Office (collectively the County)
violated the PRA, the trial court considered the relevant PRA
penalty factors and, based on substantiated facts, selected a
reasonable penalty assessment. Nothing more was required for
a fair exercise of PRA penalty discretion. We therefore
Hoffman submitted a public records request to the Kittitas
County Sheriff's Office on June 29, 2015. The request
sought police reports referencing an individual named Erin
Schnebly. The request was received by Carolyn Hayes, the
designated public records clerk for the sheriff's office.
Hayes had 10 years of experience and training responding to
PRA requests directed to the sheriff.
conducted an initial search for records and identified seven
incident reports. Her initial search did not locate photos or
videos. A careful review would have revealed the existence of
numerous photos and two videos responsive to the request.
called Hoffman about his request. Hayes's primary concern
was that her review did not show Hoffman had any involvement
in the seven incidents. Hayes told Hoffman that because he
was not involved in the incidents, she could not provide him
the majority of the documents he requested. As the parties
now agree, this information was incorrect. Based on
Hayes's misinformation, Hoffman limited his request to
face sheets of reports, which identified the type of
incident, date, and location.
Knudson, a records clerk who began training under Hayes in
the sheriff's office earlier that June, overheard
Hayes's phone call to Hoffman. She could hear what Hayes
said but not what Hoffman said. Specifically, Knudson heard
Hayes tell Hoffman she "would not be able to provide the
majority of documents" per specific statutes.
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 15-16, 459. Knudson had never
noticed Hayes saying anything similar to this before, and it
did not make sense to her.
questioned Hayes about Hoffman's request. Hayes discussed
a statute that she believed supported her position. She also
added that Hoffman had agreed to limit his request to the
made the following notation on Hoffman's PRA request:
"2009-2015 face sheet only." CP at 13. Hayes,
relying on a statute that the parties now agree did not apply
to the request, made significant and improper redactions to
the face sheets. The next day, Hayes provided the redacted
face sheets to Hoffman.
early September 2015, Knudson was cleaning Hayes's desk
prior to Hayes's pending retirement. Knudson saw a stack
of PRA requests in Hayes's desk, including Hoffman's.
Because she was still troubled by how Hayes handled
Hoffman's request, Knudson discussed the request with her
two supervisors. Both supervisors instructed Knudson to call
Hoffman, to tell him that she was reviewing past requests,
and to determine whether Hoffman was satisfied with the
response of the sheriff's office.
called Hoffman. After Hoffman told her he had received
records responsive to his request, Knudson thanked him and
ended the call. Knudson did not express her concerns to
Hoffman about the handling of his request.
days later, Hayes spoke with the same two supervisors about
Hoffman's PRA request. Like what was told to Knudson, the
supervisors instructed Hayes to call Hoffman to see if he was
satisfied with what he received. Hayes called Hoffman to
confirm he had received what he needed. Hoffman indicated
that he had, but explained he had been looking for an
incident where Schnebly allegedly ran someone over. Hayes
remained on the phone with Hoffman while she looked for the
report, but was unable to locate it.
February 25, 2016, Hoffman returned to the sheriff's
office. He told Knudson he should have received more
documents in response to his June 2015 request, that he could
sue, and that he might want to make another records request.
Hoffman claimed Hayes and the person whom he sought
information about, Schnebly, were drinking buddies, and this
relationship was the reason he did not receive all
appropriate records. Hoffman left with a blank PRA request
form and said he needed to talk to some folks.
Hayes knew who Schnebly was, the two did not socialize. The
fact that Hayes knew of Schnebly was not a factor in
Hayes's handling of Hoffman's PRA request.
February 29, 2016, Hoffman submitted a new request, which is
not at issue in this appeal. The same day, he also
resubmitted his old request. Knudson properly processed both
requests and provided all documents to Hoffman on March 1,
2016. The documents relating to the resubmitted request total
126 records, and consist of 29 pages of reports, 2 videos,
and 95 photos.
days after receipt of the response to his final PRA request,
Hoffman filed this PRA action against the County. He asserted
that Hayes and the County acted in bad faith when Hayes
withheld the records he requested.
filed a motion for summary judgment, but it was never heard.
Instead, the parties conducted limited discovery and then
agreed to waive their right to a jury trial and submit the
matter to a bench trial based on stipulated facts,
concessions of the parties, exhibits, and testimony through
depositions, affidavits or declarations.
reviewing the written submissions of the parties and hearing
argument of counsel, the trial court ruled in Hoffman's
favor, finding the sheriff's office improperly redacted
and withheld 126 records for 246 days. The court concluded,
however, that Hayes's error was a result of negligence,
not bad faith. The court found that Knudson had not acted
negligently, that the sheriff's office had provided
appropriate supervision, and that the response to
Hoffman's PRA request was timely, though inadequate.
trial court weighed the penalty factors set by the Supreme
Court in Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims, King County
Exec., 168 Wn.2d 444, 229 P.3d 735 (2010)
(Yousoufian II), and ordered the County to pay
Hoffman his reasonable attorney fees and a penalty of $0.50
per day for each document that the sheriff's office had
failed to produce or improperly redacted. Because the penalty
days totaled 246, and the number of records totaled 126, the
penalty totaled $15, 498. Hoffman appeals the penalty award.
case is governed by the applicable standard of review. Unlike
a substantive PRA violation decision, a PRA penalty
determination is reviewed for abuse of discretion.
Compare RCW 42.56.550(3) ("Judicial review of
all agency actions taken or challenged under RCW 42.56.030
through 42.56.520 shall be de novo.") with RCW
42.56.550(4) ("[I]t shall be within the discretion of
the court to award" PRA penalties.); Yousoufian v.
Office of King County Exec., 152 Wn.2d 421, 431, 98 P.3d
463 (2004) (Yousoufian I) ("[T]he ...