April 12, 2024

WA Supreme Court Provides Guidance on Statute of Limitations for Public Records Act Claims

On Thursday, April 11, 2024, the Washington Supreme Court issued an important decision regarding the Washington Public Records Act, chapter 42.56 RCW (“PRA”), which provides helpful guidance on when the statute of limitations period for a PRA claim begins.

The statute of limitations to file a claim under the PRA is one year (RCW 42.56.550(6)). In its decision in Cousins v. State of Washington, Case No. 101769-3 (2024), the Washington Supreme Court held that an agency’s letter closing a request for records under the PRA “will generally trigger the PRA’s statute of limitations” but there are certain requirements that agencies must follow.

The Court determined that to trigger the limitations period, “a closing letter must be sufficient” and “an agency’s use of the word ‘closed,’ without more, is not determinative.” The Court opined that a closing letter to a requester is sufficient if it includes the following information in plain language targeted to a lay audience: (1) information on how the PRA request was fulfilled and why the agency is now closing the request; (2) a statement that the PRA’s one-year statute of limitations to seek judicial review has started to run because the agency does not intend to further address the request; and (3) a statement that the requester may ask follow-up questions within a reasonable time frame, which may be specified by the agency.

The Court further noted that, to assess the sufficiency of a closing letter, courts and agencies should consult the attorney general’s advisory model rules on public records compliance (Public Records Act—Model Rules), chapter 44-14 WAC, and the Court’s decision.

Click here for a PDF of the Court’s decision in Cousins. For questions regarding PRA compliance, please reach out to any member of our municipal law team.