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Responding to Public Records Requests

This page provides an overview of the Public Records Act (PRA) requirements that local governments must comply with when responding to public records requests in Washington State. 

It is part of MRSC's series on the Public Records Act.

Five Day Response Requirement

State and local government agencies are required by RCW 42.56.520 to respond to a public records request within five business days by doing one of the following:

  • Providing for inspection and/or copying of the records requested.
  • Providing an internet address and link to the specific records requested on the agency’s website. If the individual does not have internet access, then the agency must provide copies or allow the requester to view the records using an agency computer.
  • Acknowledging receipt of the request and providing a reasonable estimate of the time necessary to respond.
  • Acknowledging receipt of the request, then seeking clarification if the request is unclear and providing, to the greatest extent possible, a reasonable estimate of time necessary to respond if the request is not clarified. If the requestor does not respond to the agency’s clarification request and the entire request is unclear, an agency need not further respond to the request. If portions of the request are clear, however, the agency must respond to those portions.
  • Denying the request. If a request is denied, a written statement must accompany the denial setting out the specific reasons for the denial.

When Is Additional Response Time Allowed?

Often, an agency cannot provide a full response within five business days of receipt of the request. Within five business days an agency may respond by acknowledging receipt of the request and providing “a reasonable estimate of the time the agency…will require to respond to the request” (RCW 42.56.520(1)(c)). If an agency plans to respond with records in installments, then it may give a reasonable estimate of when the first installment will be provided. The PRA allows an agency to take additional time to respond based upon factors such as the need to:

  • Clarify the intent of the request;
  • Locate and assemble the potentially-responsive records requested;
  • Notify third parties or agencies affected by the request;
  • Determine whether any of the information is exempt and whether a denial should be made as to all, or part, of the request.

What Public Records Requests May be Denied?

Not all requests are considered valid requests for public records; for example, the following may be denied:

  • Requests for information (Bonamy v. Seattle (1998)).
  • Requests for all or substantially all records of an agency not relating to a particular topic (RCW 42.56.080(1)).
  • Automatically generated (bot) requests received from the same requestor within a 24-hour period if the bot requests cause excessive interference with the other essential functions of the agency (RCW 42.56.080(3)).

Last Modified: February 23, 2024