Dismissal of public records lawsuit reversed

The state appeals court reversed a summary judgment that dismissed a public records lawsuit against the city of Langley.

The Court of Appeals ruled that a judge in Island County Superior Court erred in dismissing the case because issues of fact were unresolved. The case will return to superior court to settle the questions.

The unpublished opinion explained that Eric Hood, who brought the lawsuit, made a public records request on Jan. 5, 2016 for specific documents related to former Mayor Fred McCarthy. Among the documents were McCarthy’s pocket notebooks, but McCarthy said the notes weren’t related to city business.

After Hood reviewed some of the documents at city hall, he sent another email asking for electronic files that reference him.

The appeals court found there was a “genuine issue of fact” as to whether Hood intended for the email to narrow his original request, as the city contends, or if it was a new request, as Hood contends.

Since the evidence is disputed, the opinion states, the summary judgment was an error.

The appeals court also found the record was unclear as to whether the city searched the former mayor’s laptop for responsive documents, as may have been required, and whether the city produced McCarthy’s electronic daily calendar records.

The appeals court agreed with the city on other issues. Hood claimed, for example, that the city violated the public records act by not giving him unfettered access to the laptop, but the court found he did not have that right.

Langley Mayor Tim Callison said the lawsuit has had an effect on the city’s response to public records requests.

“We’ve gotten to be much more precise and careful,” he said.

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