|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
March 17, 1999
Mr. Kenneth C. Dippel
Dear Mr. Dippel:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Texas Open Records Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 122819.
The Town of Addison (the "town") received a received a request for "a copy of the surveillance film in jail, photographs, and incident report" relating to the arrest of a named individual on November 11, 1998. You contend that the requested information is excepted from disclosure pursuant to section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the documents at issue.
Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information:
(1) relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature or settlement negotiations, to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person's office or employment, is or may be a party; and
(2) that the attorney general or the attorney of the political subdivision has determined should be withheld from public inspection.
The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that the section 552.103(a) exception is applicable in a particular situation. The test for meeting this burden is a showing that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479, 481 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210, 212 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). The governmental body must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under 552.103(a).
To establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated, a governmental body must provide this office "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture." Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). Concrete evidence to support a claim that litigation is reasonably anticipated may include, for example, the governmental body's receipt of a letter containing a specific threat to sue the governmental body from an attorney for a potential opposing party.(1) Open Records Decision No. 555 (1990); see Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989) (litigation must be "realistically contemplated"). On the other hand, this office has determined that if an individual publicly threatens to bring suit against a governmental body, but does not actually take objective steps toward filing suit, litigation is not reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision No. 331 (1982). Further, the fact that a potential opposing party has hired an attorney who makes a request for information does not establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Open Records Decision No. 361 (1983).
Having considered your arguments and the submitted information, we find that the town reasonably anticipates litigation relating to the arrest of the named individual on November 11, 1998. We agree that the submitted documents and photographs relate to the reasonably anticipated litigation. Thus, the town may withhold this information from disclosure pursuant to section 552.103(a).
In reaching this conclusion, however, we assume that the opposing party in the anticipated litigation has not previously had access to the records at issue; absent special circumstances, once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation, e.g., through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). We also note that the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has been concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).
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.
Karen E. Hattaway
Ref:: ID# 122819
Enclosures: Submitted documents and photographs
cc: Mr. Charles L. Caperton
1. In addition, this office has concluded that litigation was reasonably anticipated when the potential
opposing party took the following objective steps toward litigation: filed a complaint with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, see Open Records Decision No. 336 (1982); hired an attorney who
made a demand for disputed payments and threatened to sue if the payments were not made promptly, see Open
Records Decision No. 346 (1982); and threatened to sue on several occasions and hired an attorney, see Open
Records Decision No. 288 (1981).
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US