Washington, USA

Washington Public Records Guide

Washington Public Records Act

Wash. Rev. Code Ann. 42.56.001 to .904

Established in 1972 and recodified in 2006

Washington rewrote their public records law in 2006, although it is hard to tell because it certainly seems a little outdated in some regards. Access to the legislative and judicial branches are exempt, and the time limit for agencies’ responses is vague, asking for agencies to be “prompt.” This means requesters have to weigh out when a request is being ignored to the point of denial. Enforcement is almost entirely up to the judge presiding over the case, with fines of either five dollars or a hundred dollars per day that the request went denied for. Fees are not charged for searches, but photocopies run fifteen cents a page. Fee waivers are not granted here.

Washington has 46 exemptions, which are highly specific and cover many of the same kinds of records as other state FOIA laws, with a few oddballs and deviations. We have included a section on them, and a helpful link in our resource section.

Appeals here are only heard in court, in this case the Superior Court of whatever county that the agency is located in. If you win, you may recover attorney’s fees. You have a year to file suit, and may get an non-binding opinion from the records ombudsman in the AG’s office, which may help in your case.

The Law

No admin appeal No specified waiting period *No fee waivers

Supplemental

WA State agencies records retention schedule

WA Local agencies records retention schedule

The Details

Can you submit a request if you’re not a resident?

Yes.

To whom does this apply?

Executive?

Yes.

Legislative?

Still undecided. Some records are currently exempt, such as documents generated by the Clerk of the State House of Representatives or Secretary of the Senate, while others may be on the table.

Judicial?

Federal Way v. Koenig, 167 Wn.2d 341, 217 P.3d 1172 (2009) held that all records of the judicial branch are exempt.

Is there a designated records custodian?

There is not a specific agency dedicated to records and the upholding of records law, but the Washington Attorney General’s Office has created a records ombudsman to help requesters and mediate disputes. Their rulings and opinions are not binding.

How long do they have to respond?

The law itself only states that agencies have to be “prompt.” Like in many of the other states where agencies are not given exact time limits, this can become confusing. If an agency takes a very long time, it can be considered a denial and you may appeal. Unfortunately, it does not get less general than that.

Does the agency have to give you a tracking number or estimated date of completion?

No.

Can they ask why you ask?

No.

What enforcement?

One can either seek a non-binding opinion from the Attorney General’s records ombudsman, or you can seek judicial review in court. If found guilty of a public records violation, a judge may order an agency to pay between $5 and $100 in fines per day that the requester was denied records. Depending on the ruling, this could be very little or a surprisingly large sum.

Fees?

Search fees may not be charged, and the standard rate for photocopies are fifteen cents per page.

Are there fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest?

No.

Attorney’s fees - Can you win them?

Yes.

Exemptions and Appeals

What exemptions exist?

46 exemptions exist in Washington, and are very specific, like making the gang database or timeshare membership lists exempt. The benefit to this kind of specificity is that you know what the exemptions are and are not, and it is easier to appeal a more specific exemption rather than one which is more generally worded. What winds up happening here though is that many exemptions are needed to simply prevent personal information, financial consumer information, and other personally identifying info that citizens or employees would like kept private. Most exemptions found in the Washington Public Records Act are versions of what can be found in many other state FOIA laws. These cover subjects such as the discovery exemption (used to withhold doucments if the state is going to trial under rules of pretrial discovery), law enforcement investigatory documents are exempt, as are deliberative process records. A full list is included in the resources section.

Do they have to tell you why a portion or pages were redacted or withheld?

Yes.

How much time do you have to appeal?

One year from the date the decision was initially handed down.

Can you appeal the courts?

Yes, in the Superior Court in the jurisdiction of the offending agency.

Resources

Organizations

Washington Coalition for Open Government Freedom Foundation

Attorneys and Law Firms

The following attorneys and law firms have practiced public records law. Names marked with an asterisk have indicated a willingness to offer pro bono services on a case by case basis.

There are currently no experienced public records law attorneys that we know of in Washington. Write to us at info@MuckRock.com if you know of any and want to help us out!

Successful appeals

News Stories on Public Records Laws in the State

Blogs and feeds primarily focused on public records in Washington

Public Records Guide and Advice

RCFP exemption breakdown

Newsletters

Let us know

Big FOIA wins

Have a public records success story? Let us know!

Stats

Request Record
596 Filed
287 Completed
22 Rejected
131 No Responsive Documents
10 Awaiting Acknowledgement
56 Awaiting Response
28 Requiring Action
64 Overdue
Appeals
5 appeals awaiting response
Allowed Response Time
5 days
Average Response Time
64 days
Success Rate
45.30%
Average Fee
$68.10
11.58% of requests have a fee

Top Agencies See All

Agency Requests Pages Released
Seattle Police Department 1,134 19,011
Liquor and Cannabis Board 490 1,324
Seattle City Light 415 7,137
Washington State University 229 3,888
Washington State Patrol 227 5,963
Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority 209 6,875
Seattle City Council 167 986
Office of the Mayor 151 169
King County Sheriff's Office 109 727
Office of the Governor - Washington 92 183

Top Localities See All

Jurisdiction Requests Pages Released
Seattle, WA 2,158 28,451
King County, WA 254 2,311
Tacoma, WA 86 157
Bellevue, WA 78 1,489
Spokane, WA 65 778
Pierce County, WA 48 453
Olympia, WA 20 15,322
Spokane County, WA 15 65
Snoqualmie, WA 15 33
Everett, WA 12 46