In SEIU Local 925 v. University of Washington, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously reversed the state court of appeals, concluding that the “scope of employment” test from Nissen v. Pierce County applies only to records on personal devices, rather than agency devices.
The Washington Court of Appeals, Division One, concluded that emails of University of Washington professors relating to faculty union organizing were not “public records” under Washington’s Public Records Act, Chapter 42.56 RCW. Although the emails were sent to UW email addresses, the Court concluded that emails relating to faculty concerns and unionizing efforts were not created “within the scope of employment” and were therefore not “public records” under the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in Nissen v. Pierce County.
In Nissen, the court addressed text messages on an employee’s private cell phone, and determined that records on private cell phones were only “public records” if created within the scope of employment. The Court of Appeals’ new decision applies that test to records sent and received from a public employees’ official work email account, retained on a public agency’s server.
Local Open Government Blog covers the latest in open government across the Pacific Northwest, including the Public Records Act, the Open Public Meetings Act, public disclosure, campaign finance and the Freedom of Information Act.