Exemption from Disclosure under the Public Records Act

March 23rd, 2015 - Carmichael Clark

The Washington Supreme Court recently issued a decision further clarifying what constitutes a sufficient explanation of how an exemption under the Public Records Act (RCW 42.56) applies to a public record which is withheld from disclosure. The Public Records Act requires that when an agency withholds or redacts records from inspection its response shall include a statement of the exemption which applies and a brief explanation of how the exemption applies to the record withheld.  RCW 42.56.210(3). In City of Lakewood v. Koenig, the Court determined that the City of Lakewood (“City”) failed to provide a sufficient explanation of why certain public records were redacted. For instance, the City redacted driver’s license numbers from certain public records prior to production. The City indicated that the driver’s license numbers were redacted pursuant to RCW 42.56.050 (invasion of privacy), 46.52.120 (driving records kept confidential for use by statutorily specified public official or as otherwise designated by law) and 46.52.130 (furnishing of driving record abstract to statutorily identified individuals or entities). Since the statutes relied upon by the City did not clearly specify that driver’s license numbers are exempt from public disclosure, the Court opined that that the requester needed more explanation from the City as to why these statutes applied to driver’s license numbers. If it is clear that the record is categorically exempt then the Court opined that citing to a specific statutory provision may be sufficient.

City of Lakewood clarifies for agencies and requestors how much explanation is required when a record is withheld or redacted. As attorney’s fees were awarded to the appellant in that case, it is wise for both agencies and requestors to seek legal advice when public records are withheld or redacted from disclosure.

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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