IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
JOEL ZELLMER, ) No. 80894-0-I
) DIVISION ONE
KING COUNTY DEPARTMENT )
OF ADULT AND JUVENILE )
) UNPUBLISHED OPINION
MANN, C.J. — Joel Zellmer appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment
dismissal in his Public Records Act (PRA) proceeding. Zellmer argues that the King
County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) acted in bad faith in
responding to his public records requests. We affirm.
Zellmer has been incarcerated in Washington State since 2007, after being
convicted of murder in the second degree. In August 2010 Zellmer filed a federal civil
rights suit against various DAJD staff, alleging excessive use of force. Mills Meyers
Citations and pin cites are based on the Westlaw online version of the cited material.
Swartling, P.S. represented DAJD staff defendants. Gosselin Law Office, PLLC,
represented DAJD Director William Hayes and King County.
In February 2017 Zellmer submitted a public records request to DAJD seeking e-
mails between DAJD defendants and staff from Mills Meyers Swartling between April
30, 2014, and May 31, 2016. He also requested the e-mails between DAJD defendants
and staff from Gosselin Law Office between April 29, 2015, and April 26, 2016.
On February 24, 2017, three days after receiving Zellmer’s request, DAJD’s
records and information systems manager, Andrea Williams, acknowledged receipt of
the request. She informed Zellmer that she anticipated a first installment would be
available to him on March 24, 2017. On March 24, 2017, Williams informed Zellmer:
I am continuing to review the email you have requested. Of the 228 email
collected and reviewed to date, all are protected from disclosure under
attorney-client privilege. Once I have completed reviewing all remaining
email, I will contact you again with final results of my search and review. I
anticipate this will be no later than April 18, 2017.
On April 18, 2017, Williams informed Zellmer that she identified 122 records responsive1
to his request, all of which were withheld from disclosure as attorney-client
communications.2 Williams included an exemption log with the letter that provided: (1)
the type of record, (2) date, (3) author, (4) subject matter, (5) page numbers, (6)
recipients, both “to and CC’s,” (7) applicable exemptions; (8) action taken, and (9) a
brief explanation of how the exemption applies.
Searching for responsive records is done by using search terms. Search results often include
records that contain the applicable search term but are not responsive to a particular records request.
The 228 e-mails that were reviewed in Zellmer’s case included 115 e-mails that were responsive and 113
e-mails that were nonresponsive.
Williams cited to RCW 5.60.060(2); RCW 42.56.290; and Limstrom v. Ladenburg,
(1998) (attorney work product which is relevant to a controversy is exempted
under the attorney work product exemption of the Public Records Act).
In April 2018, Zellmer filed a pro se public records complaint against DAJD.
Zellmer alleged that the DAJD violated the PRA by providing an exemption log, instead
of a physical copy of each e-mail with the body and communications redacted. Zellmer
asked the court to require DAJD to provide him with copies of each e-mail with the
relevant portions redacted, to impose statutory penalties, and to award his costs and
DAJD sought summary judgment dismissal, alleging that the Zellmer failed to
state a claim against a proper party, that the evidence demonstrates that DAJD did not
violate the PRA, and that alternatively, DAJD did not act in bad faith when responding to
Zellmer’s request. The court granted DAJD’s motion and dismissed the complaint.
After unsuccessfully seeking reconsideration, Zellmer appeals.
Zellmer argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because
the PRA requires the agency to redact the exempt information and provide the
remaining information to the requestor for inspection and copying. We disagree.
We review summary judgment decisions de novo. Int’l Marine Underwriters v.
ABCD Marine, LLC,
(2013). “Summary judgment is
proper only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Int’l Marine
Underwriters,179Wash. 2d at 281
On review, we consider the material in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
and the motion may be granted only if reasonable people could reach but one
conclusion. Hash by Hash v. Children’s Ortho. Hosp. & Med. Ctr.,
Under the PRA, agencies “shall make available for public inspection and copying
all public records, unless the record falls within a specific exemption.” RCW 42.56.070.
Attorney-client communications are privileged communications that are exempt from
PRA disclosure. RCW 5.60.060(2)(a). The PRA’s disclosure provisions are liberally
construed and its exemptions are narrowly construed. Progressive Animal Welfare Soc.
v. Univ. of Washington,
Zellmer contends that because the DAJD provided him with an exemption log,
rather than redacted versions of all the e-mails, he was denied his opportunity for
inspection and copying under the PRA. He relies on a series of cases that state that the
agencies must withhold only the exempted portions of certain documents and disclose
the rest. See Animal Welfare
Soc.,125Wash. 2d at 255
; Seattle Firefighters Union Local
No. 27 v. Hollister,
(1987) (personal information
may be deleted from records so that they can be released under the PRA); Resident
Action Council v. Seattle Hous. Auth.,
agency must produce otherwise exempt records insofar as redaction renders any and
all exemptions inapplicable.”).
While Zellmer is correct that the PRA has been interpreted to require that the
portion of records not covered by an exemption must be disclosed to the requester, he
ignores that the entirety of the e-mails identified by DAJD, absent the subject line, were
covered by an exemption to the PRA here. There were no nonexempt portions of the e-
mails that the DAJD withheld from disclosure.
In Block v. City of Gold Bar,
City withheld 66 pages of documents and disclosed them in an exemption log. The log
specified the date, author, recipient, and subject matter of each document claimed to be
exempt. The log also cites authority for its claimed exemptions—the attorney-client
privilege and work product doctrines.
Block,189Wash. App. at 280
. This court held that
the exemption log was sufficient and rejected the appellant’s argument that the City was
required to provide redacted copies of the withheld records in their entirety to satisfy the
Block,189Wash. App. at 281
Zellmer’s argument that the DAJD was required to provide a redacted version of
each e-mail is almost identical to the argument rejected in Block. The e-mails Zellmer
requested are attorney-client communication and exempt from PRA disclosure. RCW
5.60.060(2)(a). DAJD’s exemption log identified each e-mail, and included the date of
the e-mail, the sender and recipient, the subject line of the e-mail, and the applicable
attorney-client communication exemption. The information that was provided to Zellmer
in the exemption log is the same information that would have been provided to Zellmer
had DAJD individually redacted each of the responsive records. The only difference is
the format in which it was provided.