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Sullivan v. The University of Washington

Post categories

  1. Freedom of Information

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Date Filed: June 1, 2022

Update: On Feb. 17, 2023, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. “The committee members’ performance of their official duties is not protected by the First Amendment right of expressive association,” Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote in the court’s opinion, “so the disclosure of public records that relate to performance of such duties does not impinge on that right.”

Background: In June 2021, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a request with the University of Washington under Washington’s Public Records Act seeking records that would help the organization identify the members of the school’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees the university’s use of animals. Members of the committee are currently identified only by their initials, preventing the animal-rights organization from confirming their credentials and determining whether the IACUC was legally constituted.

The committee members sought to prevent the disclosure of their identities, and a federal district court granted their motion for a preliminary injunction in February 2022, finding that federal regulation of the IACUC provides sufficient oversight to ensure the credentials and legal constitution of the committee.

PETA then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Our Position: The Ninth Circuit should reverse and vacate the district court’s preliminary injunction barring the disclosure of IACUC members’ appointment letters under Washington’s Public Records Act.

  • Analogous federal law supports public access to the makeup of the IACUC under the Washington Public Records Act.
  • Public access to the composition of policymaking bodies helps limit private industry’s ability to unduly influence public policymaking.
  • Transparency is more — not less — important for committees advising public institutions about controversial issues or subjects.

Quote: “Access to information about the identities of advisory committee members engaged in public business is not only critical to the news media’s ability to keep the public informed, but also serves to guard against private-industry capture of committees constituted to serve the public’s interests; such access allows the news media and the public to evaluate the credentials and affiliations of those making decisions about topics of public import and helps ensure that advisory committees are appropriately constituted.”

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