Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wash. High Court: Federal Privacy Laws Pre-empt State Public Records Law

The interior of the Wasington State Supreme CourtImage via Wikipedia
In Ameriquest Mortgage Company v. En banc Washington State Office of the Attorney General (Case No. 82690-1), the Washington Supreme Court affirmed an appellate court decision that federal privacy laws pre-empt Washington's Public Records Act ("WPRA") [Ch. 42.56 RCW].

Attorney Melissa Huelsman in 2007 submitted a WPRA request to Washington's Attorney General's Office for records pertaining to the office's investigation into alleged predatory lending practices by Ameriquest. (Disclosure: "TUOL" in his litigation heyday sued Ameriquest on more than one occasion on behalf of Bay State homeowners.) A state trial court originally had ruled against an injunction sought by Ameriquest against the release of records it had turned over to the AG on the grounds that disclosure violated federal privacy statutes.

The Washington High Court agreed, interpreting the relevant federal laws as preventing financial institutions from releasing "nonpublic personal information" to unafilliated third parties. Such information would require redaction of customer-identifying data, and the WPRA prohibits the AG from producing altered information in response to a request under the Act.

Kudos to the Web site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (www.rcfp.org) for reporting on this case.
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