Denney v. City of Richland (Majority)Annotate this Case
Christopher Denney, a firefighter, sued the city of Richland, Washington in 2017. He argued the city violated the Public Records Act by withholding two investigative complaints Denney made about on-the-job harassment and discrimination. In 2019, both Denney and the city filed cross motions for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment for the city and denied Denney’s motion, finding the requested records were properly exempted from disclosure as attorney work product. The city promptly filed its notice of presentation three days after the February 12, 2019 judgment. On March 14, 2019, the final judgment was entered against Denny, awarding taxable costs to the city for a total judgment of $200. Because Denney filed his appeal more than 30 days after the summary judgment order was issued, the Court of Appeals sua sponte set the matter for dismissal as untimely. Denney argued the 30-day limitation ran from the March 14 judgment; alternatively, he asked for an extension of time based on the extraordinary circumstance that the February 12 order was misleading. The Court of Appeals commissioner disagreed, noting that under RAP 2.2(a)(1), “[t]he language Mr. Denney quotes from the [trial court’s] Order was not misleading because it clearly refers to entry of a judgment in favor of the City, as the ‘prevailing party.’ The requested judgment is for a judgment that awards specific amounts as costs to the City.” The commissioner dismissed Denney’s appeal, which Denney then moved to modify. The Chief Judge denied the motion in part, upholding the commissioner’s ruling dismissing Denney’s appeal of the February 12 order and granting the motion as to the appeal of the March 14 final judgment on the “limited scope of the [$200] cost award.” Denney moved for discretionary review with the Washington Supreme Court, which found that a summary judgment order disposing of all claims can constitute a final judgment, thereby starting the 30-day appeal deadline. An appeal of a trial court decision on the merits brings along a subsequent cost award, but a timely appeal of a cost judgment does not bring along review on the merits. Here, the Court found the summary judgment order wholly resolved Denney’s suit on the merits and reserved a cost award for later determination, triggering the deadline. Denny filed his appeal more than 30 days after the summary judgment and dismissal order issue. However, because Denney’s misinterpretation of the RAPs was an excusable error, the Supreme Court held Denney’s case warranted an extension of time to appeal. The Court therefore reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.