|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
November 23, 1999
Mr. Steven D. Monté
Dear Mr. Monté:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 129037.
The Dallas Police Department (the "department") received a request for internal affairs records concerning Ronald Catlin.(1) You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.
The Public Information Act imposes a duty on governmental bodies seeking an open records decision pursuant to section 552.301 to submit that request to the attorney general within ten business days after the governmental body's receipt of the request for information. The time limitation found in section 552.301 is an express legislative recognition of the importance of having public information produced in a timely fashion. Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ). When a request for an open records decision is not made within the time period prescribed by section 552.301, the requested information is presumed to be public. See Gov't Code § 552.302. This presumption of openness can only be overcome by a compelling demonstration that the information should not be made public. See, e.g., Open Records Decision No. 150 (1977) (presumption of openness overcome by a showing that the information is made confidential by another source of law or affects third party interests).
The department provided this office with a statement indicating that the request for public information was received by the department on July 28, 1999. You did not seek a decision from this office until August 26, 1999. Consequently, you have not met your statutory burden. Gov't Code § 552.301. The requested information is therefore presumed public. In the absence of a demonstration that the requested information is confidential by law or that other compelling reasons exist as to why the information should not be made public, you must release the information. Open Records Decision No. 195 (1978).
You assert that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with common-law privacy. The application of section 552.101 of the Government Code is a compelling reason that will overcome the presumption that the information is public and must be released. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." 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 Found. v. Texas Industrial Accident Bd., 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). In Industrial Foundation, the Texas Supreme Court considered intimate and embarrassing information such as that 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; see also Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (concluding that fact that a person broke out in hives as a result of severe emotional distress is excepted by common-law privacy), 455 (1987) (concluding that kinds of prescription drugs a person is taking are protected by common-law privacy), 343 (1982) (concluding that information regarding drug overdoses, acute alcohol intoxication, obstetrical/gynecological illnesses, convulsions/ seizures, or emotional/mental distress is protected by common-law privacy). We agree that certain information may be withheld pursuant to section 552.101. For your convenience, we have marked the information which the department must withhold.
Additionally, the submitted documents contain information which is excepted from disclosure pursuant to section 552.117 of the Government Code. The exception mandated by section 552.117 provides a compelling reason to overcome the presumption that the information is public. Section 552.117 provides that information may be withheld if it is:
information that relates to the home address, home telephone number, social security number, or that reveals whether the following person has family members:
(2) a peace officer as defined by Article 2.12, Code of Criminal Procedure, or a security officer commissioned under Section 51.212, Education Code.
We have marked the information that must be withheld under section 552.117(2) of the Government Code.
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.
Carla Gay Dickson
Ref: ID# 129037
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Mr. Joe Morris
1. We note that the request also seeks information related to Officer Frank Plaster. Since you neither submitted information nor raised an exception regarding this portion of the request, we assume that you have released all of the non-confidential responsive information related to this request.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US