Click for home page Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
John Cornyn
image
 

January 21, 1999

Ms. Joanne Wright
Associate General Counsel
Texas Department of Transportation
125 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701-2483

OR99-0152

Dear Ms. Wright:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Texas Open Records Act (the "act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your requests were assigned ID#s 121206 and 122179.(1)

The Texas Department of Transportation (the "department") received several requests for a variety of information concerning Management Directed Investigation case number 98HQ-M-C531. In response to the request, you submit to this office for review the records which you assert are responsive. You state that "[m]ost of the documents responsive to these requests will be provided" to the requestors. You contend, however, that certain information in the submitted records is excepted from required public disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107 and 552.117 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions and arguments you have raised and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.101 excepts "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section also excepts from disclosure information protected by common-law and constitutional privacy. For information to be protected from public disclosure under the common-law right of privacy, the information must meet the criteria set out in Industrial Foundation of the South v. Texas Industrial Accident Board, 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The court stated that

information . . . is excepted from mandatory disclosure under Section 3(a)(1) as information deemed confidential by law if (1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is not of legitimate concern to the public.

540 S.W.2d at 685; Open Records Decision No. 142 at 4 (1976) (construing statutory predecessor to Gov't Code 552.101). The type of information considered intimate and embarrassing by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation included information relating to sexual assault, pregnancy, mental or physical abuse in the workplace, illegitimate children, psychiatric treatment of mental disorders, attempted suicide, and injuries to sexual organs. 540 S.W.2d at 683.

Section 552.101 also excepts information that is confidential under constitutional privacy. Constitutional privacy consists of two interrelated types of privacy: (1) the right to make certain kinds of decisions independently and (2) an individual's interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. Open Records Decision No. 455 at 4 (1987). The first type protects an individual's autonomy within "zones of privacy" which include matters related to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education. Id. The second type of constitutional privacy requires a balancing between the individual's privacy interests and the public's need to know information of public concern. Id. The scope of information protected is narrower than that under the common-law doctrine of privacy; the information must concern the "most intimate aspects of human affairs." Id. at 5 (citing Ramie v. City of Hedwig Village, Texas, 765 F.2d 490 (5th Cir. 1985)).

This office has found that the following types of information are excepted from required public disclosure under constitutional or common-law privacy: some kinds of medical information or information indicating disabilities or specific illnesses, see Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (illness from severe emotional and job-related stress), 455 (1987) (prescription drugs, illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps), personal financial information not relating to the financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body, see Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992), 545 (1990), information concerning the intimate relations between individuals and their family members, see Open Records Decision No. 470 (1987), and identities of victims of sexual abuse or the detailed description of sexual abuse, see Open Records Decision Nos. 440 (1986), 393 (1983),

339 (1982). Accordingly, we have reviewed the information submitted for our consideration and agree that the marked information must be withheld under constitutional and common-law privacy.(2)

Section 552.117 of the Government Code excepts from public disclosure information relating to the home address, home telephone number, and social security number of a current or former government employee or official, as well as information revealing whether that employee or official has family members. Section 552.117 requires you to withhold this information for an official, employee, or former employee who requested that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. See Open Records Decision Nos. 622 (1994), 455 (1987). In this instance, you state that the individuals whose information is at issue have "requested that this information not be made available to the public." You may not, however, withhold this information if the employee had not made a request for confidentiality under section 552.024 prior to the time this request for the documents was made. Whether a particular piece of information is public must be determined at the time the request for it is made. Open Records Decision No. 530 at 5 (1989). Accordingly, you must redact the information subject to section 552.117 wherever it is located in the submitted records.(3)

Finally, we consider whether Exhibit C may be withheld under the claimed exception. Section 552.107(1) excepts from disclosure communications that reveal client confidences or the attorney's legal opinion or advice. Open Records Decision Nos. 589 at 1(1991), 574 at 3 (1990), 462 at 9-11(1987). In Open Records Decision No. 574 (1990), this office concluded that section 552.107 excepts from public disclosure only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5 (1990). However, section 552.107(1) does not protect purely factual information unless the factual information constitutes a confidence that the client related to the attorney. See id. at 5. We have reviewed the document submitted as Exhibit C and agree that the information is excepted from disclosure by section 552.107.

We are resolving this matter with an informal letter ruling rather than with a published open records decision. This ruling is limited to the particular records at issue under the facts presented to us in this request and should not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have questions about this ruling, please contact our office.

Yours very truly,

Sam Haddad
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

SH/nc

Ref.: ID#s 121206 and 122179

cc: Ms. Teri H. Sullivan
112 Tortoise Lane
Georgetown, Texas 78628
(w/o enclosures)

Mr. Brian Chamberlain
608 Cornell Drive
Pflugerville, Texas 78660
(w/o enclosures)

Mr. Frank S. Craig, III
Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P.
P.O. Box 3197
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70821-3197
(w/o enclosures)

Ms. Tracy Mortensen
1502 Meadows Drive
Round Rock, Texas 78681
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. We have combined the two related files, because the individual requestors seek information which you contend is related and subject to the same exceptions.

2. We note, however, that because there is a legitimate public interest in the activities of public employees in the workplace, information about public employees is commonly held not to be excepted from required public disclosure under common-law privacy. Open Records Decision Nos. 470 at 4 (1987) (public has legitimate interest in job performance of public employees), 444 (1986) (public has legitimate interest in knowing reasons for dismissal, demotion, promotion, or resignation of public employees), 423 at 2 (1984) (scope of public employee privacy is narrow).

3. We note that section 552.352 of the Open Records Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information.
 

POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US
An Equal Employment Opportunity Employer


Home | ORLs