Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Health Pros Northwest, Inc. v. State

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

September 17, 2019

HEALTH PROS NORTHWEST, INC., a Washington corporation, Appellant/Cross-Respondent,
v.
THE STATE OF WASHINGTON and its DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent/Cross-Appellant.

          CRUSER, J.

         Health Pros Northwest Inc. (HPNW) brought action against the Department of Corrections (DOC) for violations of the Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW. In its timely initial response to HPNW's PRA request, the DOC stated that it would provide at a later date an estimate for when the first installment of records would be produced. HPNW asserted that the DOC's response violated former RCW 42.56.520(3) (2010). The superior court ruled that former RCW 42.56.520(3) did not require an agency to provide an estimate of when it will finish producing records responsive to a request. However, the court further ruled that the DOC's initial response did not comply with former RCW 42.56.520(3) because the agency did not provide HPNW with an estimated date on which the agency would begin producing records. HPNW appealed and the DOC cross appealed.

         We hold that (1) former RCW 42.56.520(3) required an agency to provide an estimate of when it would provide the first installment of records, not when it would fully respond to the request and (2) an agency's response that states only a date by which the agency will give an estimate for when the first installment of records will be produced does not comply with former RCW 42.56.520(3). Accordingly, we affirm.

         FACTS

         I. Request for Records

         On February 10, 2017, HPNW submitted a public records request to the DOC. HPNW requested categories of records related to a contract HPNW entered into with the DOC. The request was three pages long and contained 18 parts, including multiple subparts.

         On February 15, the DOC sent HPNW an e-mail with its initial response to the request. This e-mail acknowledged receipt of the request and provided the DOC's interpretation of the request. The DOC did not provide a date on which it would produce the requested records. Instead, the DOC stated it "will respond further as to the status of your request within 45 business days, on or before April 20, 2017." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 25.

         II. First Installment

         On April 11, the DOC sent HPNW an e-mail with the cost for the first installment of records. That same day, HPNW mailed the payment to the DOC. HPNW's attorney also responded to the DOC's e-mail and asked how many installments the DOC expected to produce and when the DOC expected to produce each installment. The DOC responded,

(1) It is unknown how many installments there will be. Due to the large and complex nature of this request, [we] anticipate there will be easily over 10 installments, but that is simply a "guess-timate."
(2) How our process works is, we offer one installment at a time. The Specialist does not continue to work on the request until payment for that installment is received.

CP at 31.

         HPNW responded to this e-mail by stating that the agency's answer was "not within the letter of [sic] spirit of the Open Public Records Act." CP at 29. HPNW asserted that the agency is required to provide the requestor a reasonable estimate of when the agency would completely respond to the request. HPNW also requested that to the extent the DOC would require more than an additional 45 days to fully respond, the agency should "provide a full and complete explanation based in specific evidentiary facts why such an extraordinary response time is required." CP at 30. In response, the DOC informed HPNW that it may appeal the agency's response to its request.

         On April 17, the DOC provided HPNW with the first installment of the requested records, which contained 673 pages of responsive documents. The DOC informed HPNW that "[s]taff [will] continue to gather and review records responsive to your request" and that the DOC will "follow up with you within 40 business days, on or before, June 12, 2017." CP at 36. After receiving the DOC's letter, HPNW sent an e-mail asking how the DOC's response time complied with the statutory obligation to provide a prompt response. In an e-mail, the DOC Public Records Specialist explained that her current caseload has over 100 requests and that she could not stop working on other requests to get to HPNW's request.

         III. Complaint

         On May 2, HPNW filed a complaint in superior court, asking the court to find that the DOC violated former RCW 42.56.520 (2010) in its initial response to HPNW. HPNW also asked the court to determine whether the DOC's time estimate was "reasonable" and if the court found the estimate was unreasonable, to enter an order declaring what time estimate was reasonable.

         After being served with the complaint, the DOC continued to produce installments of records. On May 30, [1] the DOC produced the second installment of 1, 633 pages of documents. On July 3, the DOC produced the third installment of 9, 119 pages of documents. On August 22, after HPNW had filed its opening brief below, the agency produced a fourth installment of 4, 306 pages of documents. The DOC asserted in its response brief below that it had provided HPNW 15, 531 pages and that the DOC had approximately 350, 000 additional pages to review.

         IV. Hearing

         On September 8, the superior court held a hearing on two issues: (1) whether the DOC initially responded to HPNW's request as required by former RCW 42.56.520, and (2) whether the DOC was required to provide a reasonable estimate of the time it would need to fully respond to the request in order to have complied with its obligation to provide a reasonable estimate of the time required to respond within the meaning of former RCW 42.56.550 (2011).

         The superior court ruled that the DOC's initial response did not comply with former RCW 42.56.520(3) because it did not provide HPNW with an estimated date on which the agency would begin producing records. The court entered the following declaratory judgment:

The Court DECLARES that [former] RCW 42.56.520(3), as construed by the Court of Appeals in Hobbs v. State, 183 Wn.App. 925, 335 P.3d 1004 (2014), only requires an agency to provide an estimate of when it will produce its first installment of records responsive to the public records request, and does not require the agency to produce an estimate of when it will finish producing records responsive to such a request, such that the Court has no jurisdiction to compel the agency to provide such an estimate.

CP at 251. And the court concluded that the DOC had acted with reasonable diligence in response to HPNW's request.

         The parties stipulated and agreed that HPNW should be awarded $10, 000 in attorney fees for the violation found by the superior court. Thus, the superior court awarded HPNW $10, 000 in attorney fees and $212.50 in costs.

         HPNW appealed and the DOC cross appealed.[2]

         ANALYSIS

         I. Standard of Review

         "Judicial review of all agency actions taken or challenged under RCW 42.56.030 through 42.56.520 shall be de novo." Former RCW 42.56.550(3). The resolution of the issue in this case involves statutory interpretation. "When interpreting a statute, our primary duty is to give effect to the legislature's intent." Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims, 152 Wn.2d 421, 437, 98 P.3d 463 (2004). In interpreting a statute, we first look at the statute's plain meaning. Fisher Broad.-Seattle TV LLC v. City of Seattle, 180 Wn.2d 515, 527, 326 P.3d 688 (2014). We give effect to a statute's meaning if the meaning is plain on its face. Yousoufian, 152 Wn.2d at 437. In determining the plain meaning, we consider "'all that the Legislature has said in the statute and related statutes which disclose legislative intent about the provision in question.'" Fisher, 180 Wn.2d at 527 (quoting Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell & Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 11, 43 P.3d 4 (2002)).

         However, when a statute is ambiguous we look to principles of statutory construction, legislative history, and relevant case law to provide guidance in interpreting it. Yousoufian, 152 Wn.2d at 434. A statute is ambiguous if it is amenable to more than one reasonable interpretation. Id. at 433.

         II. Reasonable Estimate to Respond

         HPNW argues that former RCW 42.56.520(3) required an agency responding to a public records request to provide an estimate of when it expects to "fully respond to a public records request." Br. of Appellant at 4. HPNW acknowledges the authority contrary to its position, specifically Hobbs, and asks us to reach a decision contrary to our decision in that case. As a result, HPNW contends that the superior court erred in its reliance on Hobbs in ruling that former RCW 42.56.520(3) did not require the agency to produce an estimate of when it will finish producing records. We disagree and continue to follow the holdings in Hobbs and Hikel v. City of Lynwood, 197 Wn.App. 366, 389 P.3d 677 (2016).

         A. Principles of Law

         Former RCW 42.56.520 required, in relevant part,

Responses to requests for public records shall be made promptly by agencies. . . . Within five business days of receiving a public record request, an agency . . . must respond by either (1) providing the record; (2) providing an internet address and link on the agency's web site to the specific records requested, except that if the requester notifies the agency that he or she cannot access the records through the internet, then the agency must provide copies of the record or allow the requester to view copies using an agency computer; (3) acknowledging that the agency . . . has received the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.