In the latest installment of a series of cases involving the nonprofit organization Freedom Foundation, the Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”) secured itself a win in the Washington Court of Appeals, Division II. Among other findings, the court upheld the trial court’s conclusion that DSHS did not violate the Public Records Act (“PRA”) when it first produced the requested records to the SEIU Training Partnership—a third party DSHS determined was likely to be “affected by the request.” Freedom Found. v. Wash. Dep’t of Soc. and Health Servs.
The Freedom Foundation submitted a public records request to DSHS in April 2017, seeking records relating to the training of individual at-home care providers who supply personal care services to functionally disabled individuals. DSHS responded that it would not be able to produce any documents until about June 13, citing a busy workload processing other PRA requests and the difficulty of locating and assembling the Foundation’s requested records, which were located in three regional and fourteen area offices. DSHS then informed SEIU—the union representing the individual providers—and the SEIU Training Partnership of the Foundation’s PRA request. The Training Partnership responded by requesting from DSHS the same records that the Foundation had requested. DSHS produced the records to the Training Partnership in installments on May 12 and June 9, but it did not produce those same records to the Foundation until July 11. When the Foundation learned of the earlier production to the Training Program, it sued, alleging that DSHS had violated the PRA by (1) providing an unreasonable time estimate for the production of records; (2) distinguishing between requesters; (3) failing to provide the fullest and timeliest assistance; and (4) delaying the release of records.