HEALTH PROS NORTHWEST, INC., a Washington corporation, Appellant/Cross-Respondent,
THE STATE OF WASHINGTON and its DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent/Cross-Appellant.
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.
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.
Request for Records
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
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.
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
(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.
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.
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.
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.
being served with the complaint, the DOC continued to produce
installments of records. On May 30,  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.
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).
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
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
CP at 251. And the court concluded that the DOC had acted
with reasonable diligence in response to HPNW's request.
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.
appealed and the DOC cross appealed.
Standard of Review
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)).
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.
Reasonable Estimate to Respond
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).
Principles of Law
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 ...