Associated Press v. Washington State Legislature

Decision Date19 December 2019
Docket NumberNo. 95441-1,95441-1
Citation194 Wash.2d 915,454 P.3d 93
CourtWashington Supreme Court
Parties The ASSOCIATED PRESS, Northwest News Network, KING-TV ("KING 5"), KIRO 7, Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, The Spokesman-Review, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, Sound Publishing, Inc., Tacoma News, Inc. ("The News Tribune"), and The Seattle Times, Respondents/Cross-Petitioners, v. The WASHINGTON STATE LEGISLATURE; The Washington State Senate ; The Washington State House of Representatives, Washington state agencies; and Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, each in their official capacity, Petitioners/Cross-Respondents.

Paul J. Lawrence, Nicholas W. Brown, Claire Ellen McNamara, Pacifica Law Group LLP, 1191 2nd Avenue, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98101-3404, Gerry Lee Alexander, Attorney at Law, 910 Lakeridge Way SW, Olympia, WA 98502-6036, for Petitioner.

Michele Lynn Earl-Hubbard, Allied Law Group LLC, P.O. Box 33744, Seattle, WA 98133-0744, for Respondents.

Katherine George, Johnston George LLP, 2101 4th Avenue, Suite 860, Seattle, WA 98121, Antoinette M. Davis, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, 901 5th Avenue, Suite 630, Seattle, WA 98164-2086, for Amici Curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Investigatewest, and Washington Coalition For Open Government.

Callie Anne Castillo, Lane Powell, P.O. Box 91302, Seattle, WA 98111-9402, Alan D. Copsey, Office of the Attorney General, P.O. Box 40100, 1125 Washington Street SE, Olympia, WA 98504-0100, for Amicus Curiae Attorney General of Washington.

Casey Morgan Bruner, Steven Joseph Dixson, Witherspoon Kelley, 422 W. Riverside Avenue, Suite 1100, Spokane, WA 99201-0300, Lata Nott, David L. Hudson, 1st Amendment Center of Freedom Forum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, 20001, for Amicus Curiae First Amendment Center of The Freedom Forum Institute.

Eric Stahl, Ambika Kumar Doran, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, 920 5th Avenue, Suite 3300, Seattle, WA 98104-1610, Bruce D. Brown, Katie Townsend, Caitlin Vogus, Daniel J. Jeon, Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press, Executive Director, 1156 15th Street NW, Suite 1020, Washington DC, 20005, for Amicus Curiae Reporters Committee For Freedom of The Press & 16 media orgs.

OWENS, J.

¶ 1 This case asks us to determine whether the state legislative branch is subject to the general public records disclosure mandate of the Public Records Act (PRA), ch. 42.56 RCW. To resolve this question, we must decide whether each of the two classes of legislative entities constitute "agencies" for purposes of the PRA: the offices of individual legislators on the one hand and the institutional bodies of the senate, house of representatives, and legislature as a whole on the other. We hold that under the plain meaning of the PRA, individual legislators are "agencies" subject in full to the PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate because they are expressly included in the definitional chain of "agency" in a closely related statute. We further hold that the institutional legislative bodies are not "agencies" because they are not included in that definitional chain, but they are instead subject to the PRA’s narrower public records disclosure mandate by and through each chambers’ respective administrative officer. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court.

FACTS

¶ 2 The parties agree that there are no material facts in dispute. Between January 25 and July 26, 2017, members of the news media submitted 163 PRA requests to the state senate, the house of representatives, and the legislature as a whole, as well as the offices of individual state senators and representatives. Senate and house counsel responded to the news media’s PRA requests on behalf of the chambers’ chief administrative officers, the secretary of the senate (Secretary) and the chief clerk of the house of representatives (Clerk). In response to some requests, senate and house counsel stated that the legislature did not possess responsive records in light of the definition of "public records" applicable to the legislature. In response to other requests, senate and house counsel and certain individual legislators voluntarily provided limited records. Some records that were provided contained redactions, though no exemptions were identified.

¶ 3 Members of the news media were not satisfied with the legislative entities’ responses. On July 26, members of the news media collectively submitted, via counsel, identical PRA requests to the senate, the house, and all individual legislators. The July 26 requests stated that if the recipients failed to adequately respond, the news media would "be forced to file a lawsuit addressing the PRA violations." Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 43, 48, 54, 59. House counsel again responded in a limited capacity, citing the "specific definition of ‘public records’ [that] applies to the Legislature." CP at 31.

¶ 4 On September 12, a coalition of news media outlets (collectively News Media Plaintiffs) filed a complaint against the institutional legislative bodies and four individual legislative leaders in their official capacities (collectively Legislative Defendants). The News Media Plaintiffs alleged that the Legislative Defendants violated the PRA by withholding public records. The Legislative Defendants refuted the allegations, arguing that the PRA sets out a narrower public records disclosure mandate specific to the legislative branch, which it argued exempts both its institutional bodies and individual legislators’ offices from the PRA’s general public disclosure mandate binding on "agencies." In November, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The trial court requested that the state attorney general (AG) file an amicus brief offering its analysis of the issue. The AG amicus brief proffered that individual legislators’ offices are "agencies" subject to the PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate, while the institutional legislative bodies are not.

¶ 5 On January 19, 2018, the trial court granted in part and denied in part each party’s motion for summary judgment, ruling in line with the AG’s analysis. The Legislative Defendants petitioned this court for direct discretionary review and filed a motion to stay the order; the News Media Plaintiffs filed a cross motion for direct discretionary review. The trial court granted a joint motion to certify questions of law to this court. Our Commissioner granted first the stay and later the motions for direct discretionary review.

ISSUES

¶ 6 I. Are individual legislators’ offices "agencies" for purposes of the PRA and therefore subject to the PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate?

¶ 7 II. Are institutional legislative bodies "agencies" for purposes of the PRA and therefore subject to the PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate?

ANALYSIS

¶ 8 We review de novo questions of statutory interpretation and challenges to agency actions under the PRA. RCW 42.56.550(3) ; Dep’t of Ecology v. Campbell & Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wash.2d 1, 9, 43 P.3d 4 (2002) ; City of Federal Way v. Koenig , 167 Wash.2d 341, 344, 217 P.3d 1172 (2009). We also review de novo summary judgment orders, undertaking the same inquiry as the trial court and viewing all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hisle v. Todd Pac. Shipyards Corp., 151 Wash.2d 853, 860, 93 P.3d 108 (2004). Summary judgment is proper where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. CR 56(c).

¶ 9 Under rules of statutory interpretation, we must "ascertain and carry out the Legislature’s intent, and if the statute’s meaning is plain on its face, then the court must give effect to that plain meaning as an expression of legislative intent." Campbell & Gwinn, 146 Wash.2d at 9-10, 43 P.3d 4. Plain "meaning is discerned from all that the Legislature has said in the statute and related statutes which disclose legislative intent about the provision in question." Id. at 11, 43 P.3d 4. "Statutes must be interpreted and construed so that all the language used is given effect, with no portion rendered meaningless or superfluous." Whatcom County v. City of Bellingham, 128 Wash.2d 537, 546, 909 P.2d 1303 (1996). Only if the statute remains ambiguous—that is, "susceptible to more than one reasonable meaning"—is it appropriate to resort to legislative history. Campbell & Gwinn, 146 Wash.2d at 12, 43 P.3d 4.

¶ 10 "The PRA is ‘a strongly worded mandate for broad disclosure of public records.’ "

Bainbridge Island Police Guild v. City of Puyallup, 172 Wash.2d 398, 408, 259 P.3d 190 (2011) (plurality opinion) (quoting Hearst Corp. v. Hoppe, 90 Wash.2d 123, 127, 580 P.2d 246 (1978) ). The PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate requires that "[e]ach agency ... shall make available for public inspection and copying all public records." RCW 42.56.070(1) (emphasis added). The PRA defines "agency" as including "all state agencies." RCW 42.56.010(1). The PRA defines "state agency" in turn as including "every state office, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or other state agency." Id. The PRA does not expressly define "state office" or the other terms enumerated in the definition of "state agency." Neither does the PRA expressly indicate whether individual legislators or the senate, the house, and the legislature as a whole are "agencies" for purposes of the PRA.

¶ 11 Notably, the PRA provides an exception to the general public records disclosure mandate for the Secretary and the Clerk. While the PRA defines "public record" as "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government," a narrower definition applies to the Secretary and the Clerk:

For the office of the secretary of the senate and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives, public records
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