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August 2, 1999

Ms. Lisa Aguilar
Assistant City Attorney
City of Corpus Christi
P.O. Box 9277
Corpus Christi, Texas 78469-9277

OR99-2177

Dear Ms. Aguilar:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 126633.

The City of Corpus Christi (the "city") received a request for the recorded statements of specific individuals who witnessed or reported the accusations against the requestor. You claim that the requested audiotapes are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted audiotapes.

Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by common-law privacy and excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Therefore, information may be withheld from the public when (1) it is highly intimate and embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) there is no legitimate public interest in its disclosure. Id. at 685; Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992).

In Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied), the court addressed the applicability of the common-law privacy doctrine to files of an investigation of allegations of sexual harassment. The investigation files in Ellen contained individual witness statements, an affidavit by the individual accused of the misconduct responding to the allegations, and conclusions of the board of inquiry that conducted the investigation. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d at 525. The court ordered the release of the affidavit of the person under investigation and the conclusions of the board of inquiry, stating that the public's interest was sufficiently served by the disclosure of such documents. Id. In concluding, the Ellen court held that "the public did not possess a legitimate interest in the identities of the individual witnesses, nor the details of their personal statements beyond what is contained in the documents that have been ordered released." Id.

When there is an adequate summary of the investigation, the summary must be released, but the identities of the victims and witnesses must be redacted and their detailed statements must be withheld from disclosure. However, we believe that when no adequate summary exists, detailed statements regarding the allegations must be released, but the identities of witnesses and victims must still be redacted from the statements. After careful review, we agree that Exhibits 4 and 5 serve as an adequate summary of the investigation. Therefore, the city must withhold the submitted audiotapes under section 552.101.

Because we are able to make a determination under section 552.101 of the government Code, we need not address your additional arguments against disclosure. 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 on as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have any questions regarding this ruling, please contact our office.

Sincerely,

June B. Harden
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JBH/ch

Ref.: ID# 126633

Encl. Submitted audiotapes

cc: Mr. Lee Simmons
6815 Crosstimbers
Corpus Christi, Texas 78413
(w/o enclosures)


 

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