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July 7, 1999

Mr. David Anderson
Chief Counsel
Office of Legal Services
Texas Education Agency
1701 North Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas 78701-1494

OR99-1891

Dear Mr. Anderson:

You have asked whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 127056.

The Texas Education Agency (the "TEA") received a request for information concerning complaints made against Supreme Driving School. You submitted to this office representative samples of the records at issue.(1) You assert that the records at issue are protected from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code as it encompasses the informer's privilege, and under section 552.103 of the Government Code.

You contend that the identities of complainants in Exhibit 3 are protected from disclosure under section 552.101. Texas courts long have recognized the informer's privilege, see Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969); Hawthorne v. State, 10 S.W.2d 724, 725 (Tex. Crim. App. 1928), and it is a well-established exception under the Public Information Act. Open Records Decision No. 549 at 4 (1990). For information to come under the protection of the informer's privilege, the information must relate to a violation of a civil or criminal statute. See Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 2-5 (1988), 391 (1983). In Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59 (1957), the United States Supreme Court explained the rationale that underlies the informer's privilege:

What is usually referred to as the informer's privilege is in reality the Government's privilege to withhold from disclosure the identity of persons who furnish information of violations of law to officers charged with enforcement of that law. [Citations omitted.] The purpose of the privilege is the furtherance and protection of the public interest in effective law enforcement. The privilege recognizes the obligation of citizens to communicate their knowledge of the commission of crimes to law enforcement officials and, by preserving their anonymity, encourages them to perform that obligation.

Although the "informer's privilege" aspect of section 552.101 ordinarily applies to the efforts of law enforcement agencies, it can apply to administrative officials with a duty of enforcing particular laws. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982) at 2; Open Records Decision Nos. 285 at 1 (1981), 279 at 1-2 (1981); see also Open Records Decision No. 208 at 1-2 (1978). This may include enforcement of quasi-criminal civil laws. See Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 3 (1988), 391 at 3 (1983). The privilege excepts the informer's statement itself only to the extent necessary to protect the informer's identity. Open Records Decision No. 549 (1990). However, the exception is inapplicable if the identity of the informer is known to the subject of the communication. Open Records Decision No. 202 at 2 (1978).

We agree that you have shown the applicability of the informer's privilege to the marked information in Exhibit 3. This information may therefore be withheld from disclosure.

You contend that the information in Exhibit 2 is protected from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. To show that section 552.103(a) is applicable, a governmental entity must show that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated and (2) the information at issue is related to the litigation. University of Texas Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479 (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 entity must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103(a). We agree that you have shown that litigation is reasonably anticipated and that the information in Exhibit 2 is related to that anticipated litigation. Thus, Exhibit 2 may be withheld from disclosure under section 552.103(a) of the Government Code.

We note, however, that once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation, no section 552.103(a) interest generally exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). You may withhold the records at issue that the opposing party to the anticipated litigation has not seen or had access to. The applicability of section 552.103(a) also ends once the litigation has 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.

Sincerely,

Ruth H. Soucy
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

RHS/ch

Ref: ID# 127056

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Janet Henderson
Supreme Driving School
112 N. Hampton, Suite B
DeSoto, Texas 75115
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. We assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision No. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). Here, we do not address any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.
 

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