There is no statutorily required format for a valid public records request.1
A request can be sent in by mail. RCW 42.17.290
/42.56.100. A request can also be made by email, fax, or orally. A request should be made to the agency's public records officer. An agency may prescribe means of requests in its rules. RCW 42.17.250
/42.56.040 and 42.17.260
(1)/42.56.070(1); RCW 34.05.220
(state agencies). An agency is encouraged to make its public records request form available on its web site.
A number of agencies routinely accept oral public records requests (for example, asking to look at a building permit). Some agencies find oral requests to be the best way to provide certain kinds of records. However, for some requests such as larger ones, oral requests may be allowed but are problematic. An oral request does not memorialize the exact records sought and therefore prevents a requestor or agency from later proving what was included in the request. Furthermore, as described in WAC 44-14-04002
(1), a requestor must provide the agency with reasonable notice that the request is for the disclosure of public records; oral requests, especially to agency staff other than the public records officer or designee, may not provide the agency with the required reasonable notice. Therefore, requestors are strongly encouraged to make written requests. If an agency receives an oral request, the agency staff person receiving it should immediately reduce it to writing and then verify in writing with the requestor that it correctly memorializes the request.
An agency should have a public records request form. An agency request form should ask the requestor whether he or she seeks to inspect the records, receive a copy of them, or to inspect the records first and then consider selecting records to copy. An agency request form should recite that inspection of records is free and provide the per-page charge for standard photocopies.
An agency request form should require the requestor to provide contact information so the agency can communicate with the requestor to, for example, clarify the request, inform the requestor that the records are available, or provide an explanation of an exemption. Contact information such as a name, phone number, and address or email should be provided. Requestors should provide an email address because it is an efficient means of communication and creates a written record of the communications between them and the agency. An agency should not require a requestor to provide a driver's license number, date of birth, or photo identification. This information is not necessary for the agency to contact the requestor and requiring it might intimidate some requestors.
An agency may ask a requestor to prioritize the records he or she is requesting so that the agency is able to provide the most important records first. An agency is not required to ask for prioritization, and a requestor is not required to provide it.
An agency cannot require the requestor to disclose the purpose of the request with two exceptions. RCW 42.17.270
/42.56.080. First, if the request is for a list of individuals, an agency may ask the requestor if he or she intends to use the records for a commercial purpose.2
An agency should specify on its request form that the agency is not authorized to provide public records consisting of a list of individuals for a commercial use. RCW 42.17.260
Second, an agency may seek information sufficient to allow it to determine if another statute prohibits disclosure. For example, some statutes allow an agency to disclose a record only to a claimant for benefits or his or her representative. In such cases, an agency is authorized to ask the requestor if he or she fits this criterion.
An agency is not authorized to require a requestor to indemnify the agency. Op. Att'y Gen. 12 (1988).3
1Hangartner v. City of Seattle, 151 Wn.2d 439, 447, 90 P.3d 26 (2004) ("there is no official format for a valid PDA request.").
2Op. Att'y Gen. 12 (1988), at 11; Op. Att'y Gen. 2 (1998), at 4.
/42.56.060 provides: "No public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian shall be liable, nor shall a cause of action exist, for any loss or damage based upon the release of a public record if the public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian acted in good faith in attempting to comply with the provisions of this chapter." Therefore, an agency has little need for an indemnification clause. Requiring a requestor to indemnify an agency inhibits some requestors from exercising their right to request public records. Op. Att'y Gen. 12 (1988), at 11.
[Statutory Authority: 2005 c 483 § 4, RCW 42.17.348
. WSR 06-04-079, § 44-14-03006, filed 1/31/06, effective 3/3/06.]