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Gendler v WSP Majority

Gendler v WSP Majority

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Published by: levipulkkinen7372 on Apr 12, 2012
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SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
MICHAEL W. GENDLER,))Respondent,)NO.85408-4)v.)EN BANC)JOHN R. BATISTE, WASHINGTON)Filed April 12, 2012STATE PATROL CHIEF,))Petitioner.)______________________________)FAIRHURST, J.—This case involves the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter42.56 RCW, and its interplay with two statutes, RCW 46.52.060 and 23 U.S.C. §409. Michael W. Gendler made a public records request for location-specificaccident reports from the Washington State Patrol (WSP). The WSP refused toprovide the records unless Gendler certified that he would not use the records in anylitigation against the State, claiming a federal statute, 23 U.S.C. § 409, protected therecords sought. WSP claimed the records were shielded because they were locatedin an electronic database that the Department of Transportation (DOT) utilized for
 
Gendler v. Batiste
, No. 85408-42purposes related to the federal hazard elimination program, 23 U.S.C. § 152.Gendler then brought a suit under the PRA and argued § 409 does not applyto the WSP because it did not compile or collect the information for § 152 purposes.Rather, theinformation wascollected pursuant to WSP’sstatutory duty under RCW46.52.060. The trial court agreed and, on summary judgment, ordered WSP toproduce the requested accident reports. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We alsoaffirm because § 409 doesnot extend to police accident reports generated andreceived by WSP pursuant to its own statutory duty.I. FACTUALAND PROCEDURAL HISTORYGendler was riding his bicycle across Seattle’s Montlake Bridge when hisfront wheel was suddenly trapped in a seam on the bridgedeck grating. Gendlerwas thrown forward onto the roadway, seriously injuring his spine and renderinghim quadriplegic. As a result, he is no longer able to work full time in his lawpractice or live independently.Gendler subsequently learned that other bicyclists had been injured after theirbicycle wheels were jammed in the same manner on the same bridge. Alarmed bythese facts, Gendler sought out the history of such incidents by making a publicrecords request to the WSP. Specifically, he requested copies of police reports on
 
Gendler v. Batiste
, No. 85408-43
1
The request form is submitted to the DOT, although it is located on the WSP websiteand contains the official WSP logo.
all accidents on the Montlake Bridge involving bicycles.The WSP responded that it could not provide accident reports by location andthat it would provide records to Gendleronly if he wereable to specifically identifythe person involved in the collision and the precise collision date. Gendler was alsoinformed that only the DOT was able to produce a historic list of traffic accidentsbased on physical location and referred to a “Request for Collision Data” form thatwould be necessary before the State would fulfill his request.
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Clerk’s Papers (CP)at 27.After locating the form, Gendler discovered it required a certification that hewould not use the records in a lawsuit against the State or other government agency.The exact language from the request form reads,“I hereby affirm that I am notrequesting this collision data for use in any current, pending or anticipated litigationagainst a state, tribal or local government involving a collision at the location(s)mentioned in the data.”
 Id 
.This certification is purported to be in accordance with23 U.S.C. § 409, a limited federal privilege that protects from discovery certainrecords that the states create and compile for federal highway safety reportingpurposes. Gendler was unwilling to submit this certification, explaining:Because I do not want to waive my right to use public records

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