statute of limitations

In 2005, the Washington Legislature amended the Public Records Act to shorten the statute of limitations from five years to one year.  See Laws of 2005, ch. 483, § 5; former RCW 42.17.410.  Actions for judicial review under RCW 42.56.550 now “must be filed within one year of the agency’s claim of exemption or the last production of a record on a partial or installment basis.”  RCW 42.56.550(6).  Since this amendment, however, appellate courts have given the statute inconsistent treatment in cases involving single productions where no exemptions were claimed by the agency.  This issue most recently arose in last week’s decision from Washington’s Court of Appeals (Division I) in Mahmoud v. Snohomish County, No. 70757-4-I (unpublished).  There, the court held that the one-year statute of limitations barred all of the requestor’s claims.

Division I previously addressed this statute in Tobin v. Worden, 156 Wn. App. 507 (2010).  In that case, the court held that the one-year limitations period is triggered only by a claim of exemption or the agency’s “last partial production” – meaning the production of a record that is “part of a larger set of requested records.”  Id. at 514 (quoting RCW 42.56.080).  Because the production in Tobin involved no exemption and the production of a single document, the court held that the one-year statute of limitations did not apply.

Continue Reading Washington Appellate Court Addresses, Again, PRA Statute Of Limitations For Single Production Responses – Is The Air Clearing?

Does a single production constitute production on an installment basis and trigger the PRA’s statute of limitations?  Divisions I and II of the Washington Court of Appeals disagree. 

In Bartz v. Department of Corrections, Division II of the Court of Appeals held that the PRA’s one-year statute of limitations runs even if the agency delivers only one production.  In other words, a single production also means “the last production… on a partial or installment basis.”  A plain reading of the statute might suggest otherwise.  “Actions under this section must be filed within one year of the agency’s claim of exemption or the last production of a record on a partial or installment basis.”  RCW 42.56.550(6). 

Division II reasoned that a literal reading would lead to an absurd result, namely: “a more lenient statute of limitations for one category of PRA requests” after the Legislature shortened the statute from five years to one in 2005. 

Yet, Division I concluded just that.  In Tobin v. Worden, 156 Wn. App. 507 (2010), Division I held that the one-year statute does not apply unless the agency claims an exemption or produces records on installment.  There, the agency did not claim an exemption and produced only a single document.  Because a single production could not be an installment, Division I concluded that the statute did not apply.  

A Washington State Court of Appeals recently held that an inmate’s public records lawsuit against the State of Washington Department of Corrections (“DOC”) was time-barred, and therefore properly dismissed. Johnson v. Wash. State Dep’t of Corrections, Case No.40831-7-II, 2011 WL 5345375 (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2011).

Inmate Robert Johnson’s claim concerned the DOC’s Extended Family Visiting policy (“EFV”). The EFV policy allows an offender to receive private visits from family. Under early versions of the policy, inmates could participate in the EFV program only if they had a “positive prognosis of release”, that is if they would outlive their sentence. Johnson was ineligible for participation in the EFV program, and filed a complaint in federal district court in 2005. The DOC subsequently changed its policy as of June 8, 2006 (though not as a result of Johnson’s claims), eliminating the “positive prognosis of release” requirement.

Continue Reading Prison Bars: Washington Court Finds Inmate’s Public Records Lawsuit Time-Barred