The Open Records Division (ORD) recognizes that open government works best when rulings can be promptly issued. When the ORD receives a request for a ruling, it is assessed to determine the level of difficulty. The more difficult the situation, the more time is needed to rule. Every request requires a complete explanation of the circumstances involved, but some involve more records to review and more law to analyze.
However, requests that relate to types of information that are often requested and present no new or difficult issues are ruled on as quickly as possible. For those situations, the ORD issues a shortened or memorandum ruling. Memorandum rulings allow the ORD to issue a ruling quickly—usually within 10 or 20 days.
Memorandum rulings identify as concisely as possible the ruling requested, the documents at issue, and the ruling as to the availability of the information. These rulings allow for a more efficient use of administrative resources.
What do Memorandum Rulings apply to?
Letter rulings are limited to the submitted records at issue in a request and limited to the facts presented to us. A governmental body cannot rely upon a memorandum ruling as a previous determination regarding any other records or circumstances.
Deadlines and Remedies
Issuance of a ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor.
- Governmental bodies cannot ask the ORD to reconsider a ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f).
- If the governmental body wants to challenge a ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b).
- To get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c).
- If the governmental body does not appeal a ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the Office of the Attorney General have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
- If a ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. The ORD expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will:
- release the public records;
- notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or
- notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge a letter ruling in court.
- If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of a ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the ORD's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at (877) 673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
- If a ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.--Austin 1992, no writ).
Remember that the release of information under the Public Information Act triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor.
A governmental body, the requestor, or any other person with questions or comments about a ruling may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Laws most often referenced in Memorandum Rulings and additional background on other PIA exceptions
Section 552.101, Government Code
Citizen Dates of Birth
The Third Court of Appeals concluded public citizens’ dates of birth are protected by common-law privacy pursuant to section 552.101. Paxton v. City of Dallas, No. 03-13-00546-CV, 2015 WL 3394061, at *3 (Tex. App.—Austin May 22, 2015, pet. denied) (mem. op.).
Criminal History Information
A compilation of an individual's criminal history is highly embarrassing information, the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person. Cf. United States Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 764 (1989) (when considering prong regarding individual's privacy interest, court recognized distinction between public records found in courthouse files and local police stations and compiled summary of information and noted that individual has significant privacy interest in compilation of one's criminal history).
Furthermore, a compilation of a private citizen's criminal history is generally not of legitimate concern to the public.
In instances in which a requestor asks for all information concerning a named person, that named person's right to privacy is implicated. Therefore, to the extent the law enforcement records depict the named individual as a suspect, arrestee, or criminal defendant, a governmental body must withhold such information under section 552.101 in conjunction with common-law privacy.
Juvenile Law Enforcement Records – Family Code Section 58.008
Juvenile law enforcement records are confidential under section 58.008(b) of the Family Code, which reads as follows:
(b) Except as provided by Subsection (d), law enforcement records concerning a child and information concerning a child that are stored by electronic means or otherwise and from which a record could be generated may not be disclosed to the public and shall be:
- if maintained on paper or microfilm, kept separate from adult records;
- if maintained electronically in the same computer system as adult records, accessible only under controls that are separate and distinct from the controls to access electronic data concerning adults; and
- maintained on a local basis only and not sent to a central state or federal depository, except as provided by Subsection (c) or Subchapter B, D, or E.
Section 58.008(b) applies to records created before, on, or after September 1, 2017.
If the exceptions in section 58.008 do not apply, then the requested information is confidential pursuant to section 58.008(b) of the Family Code and must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
Records of Alleged or Suspected Abuse or Neglect of a Child
Section 261.201 of the Family Code reads in part as follows:
(a) Except as provided by Section 261.203, the following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:
- a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and
- except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, audiotapes, videotapes, and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.
If the requested information consists of reports, records, and working papers used or developed in an investigation made under chapter 261 of the Family Code, and the investigating agency has not cited to a rule it has adopted regarding the release of this type of information, the information is confidential under section 261.201(a) of the Family Code and must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
Government Code Section 552.108
Section 552.108(a)(1) states that information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from required public disclosure if "release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." Information pertaining to a pending case is one example where release of that information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime and may therefore be withheld.
Section 552.108(a)(2) excepts from disclosure information concerning an investigation that concluded in a result other than conviction or deferred adjudication. A governmental body claiming section 552.108(a)(2) must demonstrate the requested information relates to a criminal investigation that has concluded and the final result was something other than a conviction or deferred adjudication.
Government Code Section 552.130
Section 552.130 provides in relevant part:
(a) Information is excepted from the requirement of Section 552.021 if the information relates to:
- a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state or another state or country; [or]
- a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state or another state or country[.]
This exception requires a governmental body to withhold motor vehicle information such as the driver's license number, vehicle identification number, the type/class of license, copy of the license and license plate number under section 552.130.
Government Code Section 552.147
Section 552.147 excepts from public disclosure the social security number of a living person.