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Thread: FOIA in Washington

  1. #1
    Regular Member Freedom1Man's Avatar
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    FOIA in Washington

    I am still learning about FOIA requests in the Washington and I know that there is at least one FOIA pro that posts here.

    I found an example request for the state of Washington.

    Washington Sample FOIA Request

    About FOI



    [Your Name]
    [Street Address]
    [City, ST ZIP Code]


    [Date]


    [Name of Custodian of Records]
    [Title]
    [Company Name]
    [Street Address]
    [City, ST ZIP Code]


    Dear [custodian of records]:


    Under the Washington Public Records Act, §42.56 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that [Describe the records or information sought with enough detail for the public agency to respond. Be as specific as your knowledge of the available records will allow. But it is more important to describe the information you are seeking.]


    If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $______. However, I would also like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of ___________ [Here, you can identify yourself as a representative of the news media if applicable and state that your request is related to news gathering purposes.] This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.



    The Washington Public Records Act requires a response to this request be made within five business days. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than this amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.



    If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.


    Thank you for considering my request.


    Sincerely,


    [Your Name]

    [Your Phone number]

    http://www.nfoic.org/washington-sample-foia-request


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  2. #2
    Campaign Veteran slapmonkay's Avatar
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    a) I would not offer to cover any expenses. This leaves the door open for them to charge you for information. It would be better served if you put more effort behind the exceptions for them to assess fees. I typically include a sentence to help them determine my status to assess fees. I normally go down the route of defining that I am an individual, publication on an .org site, non-commercial use, and some other stuff.

    b) When claiming a waiver of all fees there are some buzz words that you typically want to use. "public interest", "contribute significantly", "activities of the government".
    For example:
    I hereby request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understand of the operations or activities of the government.
    c) Its typically helpful if the information you are requesting is provided in bullet point list so they can easily 'check off' the items they have given. If its provided to them in the request as a sentence they may miss something.

    d) Be very precise in your definition of items your requesting. I typically follow the [Detailed Description of Item] [Where its located or how it got there if possible] [any relation between items] and [timeframe/dates]
    For example:
    Any correspondence such as email or letters and their attachments, send and/or received via the internet or USPS relating to firearms between the dates of [start date] and present date.
    e) I typically use the federal FOIA Chapter 5 USC subsection 552 as my authority to make such requests. I don't know if the Washington information act is better or worse.

    f) I would not request 'to inspect or obtain a copy', I typically as that a copy of the documents be provided to me. That way they don't have a way out of the request by saying you can come view them at x location on y date/time. Only do this if they reject your request for a copy for whatever reason.

    g) Most departments, municipals, etc have their own FOIA form that you must also fill out. I typically fill in the form, and also give my template letter below as an attachment because the form does not have enough space to provide all the information and define my exemptions to assess fees.

    Here is an example of one of my form letters:
    Dear FOIA Officer,

    This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (Chapter 5 USC subsection 552). I request that a copy of documents containing the following information be provided to me:

    • Item 1
    • Item 2

    In order to help determine my status to assess fees, you should know that I am an individual seeking information for review and publication on a non-profit lobbying and citizen watchdog group relating to protections of the 2nd amendment. This national organization has many years of experience explaining the actions of police departments and legally armed citizens to the press, and advising police departments across the nation in their training of officers when dealing with legally armed citizens. This information will not be used for commercial purposes.

    I hereby request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.

    If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your refusal to release the information and notify me of appeal procedures available under the law.

    Please send response to this letter either digitally through email to [email address] or physically via US Mail to the address listed below:

    [Address Line 1]
    [City, State Zipcode]

    Sincerely,

    [Signed Name]

    [Printed Name]
    Last edited by slapmonkay; 10-19-2012 at 11:22 AM.
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  3. #3
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    I always include a definition section as well..here it is below (I cannot tell you how many times officials say "I did not know he meant e-mails" and then point it out on the definitions section).

    DEFINITIONS
    As used herein, the term "document" is used in the broadest sense and includes, but is not limited to, the following items, whether hand-written or typed or printed or recorded or reproduced by any process or whether stored electronically or in any other format, namely: .agreements; communications (including intra-company communications); memos; emails; statements; notes (whether formal or informal); correspondence; telegrams; cables; telexes, faxes; telephonically transmitted tangible communications; memoranda; records; books; summaries or records of telephone conversations; telephone message slips (including those which indicate only that a call was received or made); summaries or records of conversations or interviews; diaries; appointment books; desk calendars; wall calendars; forecasts; statistical statements; accountants work papers; graphs; charts; accounts; minutes or records of meetings or conferences; reports and/or summaries or interviews; reports and/or summaries of investigations; items published in a newspaper or other publication; pencil or scratch pad notes; records; reports or summaries of negotiations; studies; brochures; pamphlets; circulars; press releases; contracts; notes; projections; all drafts of any documents; working papers; copies; marginal notations; photographs; drawings; checks (front and back); tape recordings and transcripts thereof; video recordings; e-mails, computer printouts; check stubs or receipts; letters and correspondence (including file copies thereof); any other documents or writings or papers or printed text of whatever description. The term "document" is further defined to include any attachments or other matters affixed thereto. The term "document" also means the original and any non-identical copy. Any notations, comments or alterations on any copy renders it non-identical and require production.

  4. #4
    Opt-Out Members BigDave's Avatar
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    You all funny around here and all that work!

    I just find their website that has them Public Records Request and fill it out, even filled them by that new internet thing-a-ma-jig and poof I got all that there them stuff.

    http://www.cityoffederalway.com/index.aspx?NID=131

    http://www.cityoffederalway.com/Docu.../Home/View/762
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  5. #5
    Campaign Veteran slapmonkay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDave View Post
    You all funny around here and all that work!

    I just find their website that has them Public Records Request and fill it out, even filled them by that new internet thing-a-ma-jig and poof I got all that there them stuff.

    http://www.cityoffederalway.com/index.aspx?NID=131

    http://www.cityoffederalway.com/Docu.../Home/View/762
    You must have yet had the pleasure of a public records officer trying to charge you for the documents or only receiving part of the requested documents... Not sure how often you have done FOIA requests but its likely to happen at some point if you do it enough.
    I Am Not A Lawyer, verify all facts presented independently.

    It's called the "American Dream" because you have to be asleep to believe it. - George Carlin

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  6. #6
    Opt-Out Members BigDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapmonkay View Post
    You must have yet had the pleasure of a public records officer trying to charge you for the documents or only receiving part of the requested documents... Not sure how often you have done FOIA requests but its likely to happen at some point if you do it enough.
    I have done a handful of them and it was brought up a time or two but never charged a nickel.

    What most people need to know is, it is not hard to do and no magic is needed as it is pretty simple and straight forward and why I added some humor to the post.
    • Being prepared is to prepare, this is our responsibility.
    • I am not your Mommy or Daddy and do not sugar coat it but I will tell you simply as how I see it, it is up to you on how you will or will not use it.
    • IANAL, all information I present is for your review, do your own homework.

  7. #7
    Campaign Veteran slapmonkay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDave View Post
    What most people need to know is, it is not hard to do and no magic is needed as it is pretty simple and straight forward and why I added some humor to the post.
    +1 Agree. Most of the time its no problem and anyone can do it...
    I Am Not A Lawyer, verify all facts presented independently.

    It's called the "American Dream" because you have to be asleep to believe it. - George Carlin

    I carry a spare tire, in case I have a flat. I carry life insurance, in case I die. I carry a gun, in case I need it.

  8. #8
    Regular Member Freedom1Man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapmonkay View Post
    You must have yet had the pleasure of a public records officer trying to charge you for the documents or only receiving part of the requested documents... Not sure how often you have done FOIA requests but its likely to happen at some point if you do it enough.
    I am glad you chimed in. I was hoping your would put in your 25 cents.
    Provision for free medical attendance and nursing, for clothing, for food, for housing, for the education of children, and a hundred other matters, might with equal propriety be proposed as tending to relieve the employee of mental strain and worry. --- These matters obviously lie outside the orbit of congressional power. (Railroad Retirement Board v Alton Railroad)

  9. #9
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    I'm thinking the OP sample should be rephrased to say you want copies of the records. Worded as copies or inspection would leave me as a FOIA custodian-of-the-records wondering which you wanted and when you wanted to make the appointment to see them in person.

    Unless the records are voluminous or something where finding, producing, and copying the records would be expensive or something.
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  10. #10
    Regular Member LkWd_Don's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Citizen View Post
    I'm thinking the OP sample should be rephrased to say you want copies of the records. Worded as copies or inspection would leave me as a FOIA custodian-of-the-records wondering which you wanted and when you wanted to make the appointment to see them in person.
    Unless the records are voluminous or something where finding, producing, and copying the records would be expensive or something.
    You may have missed it, but what was in the OP was copied/pasted from a WA.gov site and the charges are for copying and research, not for viewing.

    What people need to understand is that they are required to allow you to inspect those items that you are requesting under the FOIA, they can charge you for copies if you plan to simply pick them up and take them out of the records office.
    Now, if they have to dig and search for what you want and it takes what they deem an unreasonable amount of time, they will charge you for the research time. So, when you fill out a form that asks you for an amount, put in $0.00 and list that you wish to inspect. They will stop looking when it becomes unreasonable. So, be as specific as you possibly can with your request to avoid them needing to think. LOL
    As soon as they have to think about something it will become unreasonable.

    Once they have notified you that the information is ready for your inspection, you look through what they have and then request copies of only what you absolutely want to have. Most will allow up to a certain number of pages before charging you, some will charge you a dime o a quarter a page.
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  11. #11
    Regular Member skeith5's Avatar
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    FOIA requests are for requesting information from FEDERAL agencies. A request made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will do you no good with a state agency and they may in fact deny your request based on citing the incorrect law which applies to them. I've had it happen to me before I knew any better.

    If you are going for information from any non-federal agency you want to make a request under that state's information law. For Washington it is RCW 42.56, Public Records act. I have made a LOT of requests from various states and have only had to pay twice. The example to request records was a decent start but I would change a couple things. I would not mention ANYTHING about fees unless they give you an estimate before hand. Fees are ONLY charged for providing hard copies, not to exceed 15 cents per page. If you are worried about getting a bill you can always go in and copy them for free. They cannot charge you for finding the records, only for the actual copies. I frequently get information in electronic format, no charge.

    When making the request be incredibly specific about what you want and how you want it delivered. If you just want to inspect the records say it, if you want a PDF say it. The agencies are not required to fill a request for a file format that they don't use.

    FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP. If you send the initial request via e-mail or through a web form follow up with a certified letter recapping the form and restating the due dates of the agency. Mention that you will call the day before their response is due to follow up.

    I have an excel worksheet that shows every state with links to their public records acts. There is a column for the amount of time they have to respond. On the second sheet is where I record the requests I've made. When I put in the state and the request date it automatically calculates their due date (In business days.) If anyone is interested I can e-mail them a blank copy.

    If they still won't pay ball follow the chain of command, up to the attorney general. I had issues with an Arizona request until I contacted the attorney general. Magically the request was filled by the next day. The other option is court. You would want to file a motion with the superior court in whatever county you are in. If the agency is found to violate the act fees are $100 a day plus any attorneys fees.

    42.56.550

    (4) Any person who prevails against an agency in any action in the courts seeking the right to inspect or copy any public record or the right to receive a response to a public record request within a reasonable amount of time shall be awarded all costs, including reasonable attorney fees, incurred in connection with such legal action. In addition, it shall be within the discretion of the court to award such person an amount not to exceed one hundred dollars for each day that he or she was denied the right to inspect or copy said public record.

    I know that I'm rambling a bit. If anyone is interested in help send me a PM and I'll do what I can.

    Scott

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