|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 27, 1999
Captain Charlotte Jordan
Dear Ms. Jordan:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#130728.
The Ector County Sheriff's Office (the "county") received a request for the personnel records of two employees. You state that you have released some of the records to the requestor. You claim, however, that the remaining responsive information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.103 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, you contend that the requested information may be withheld from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. Section 552.103(a), the "litigation exception," excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party. 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 (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 county must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103(a).
The mere chance of litigation will not trigger section 552.103(a). Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). To demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated, the governmental body must furnish concrete evidence that litigation involving a specific matter is realistically contemplated and is more than mere conjecture. Id. Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986).
You explain that the county received a "Notice of Charge of Discrimination" from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). This office has stated that a pending EEOC complaint indicates litigation is reasonably anticipated. Open Records Decision Nos. 386 at 2 (1983), 336 at 1 (1982). However, you inform us that the EEOC charge has been dismissed. You have provided a copy of the "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" for our review. You state that litigation is reasonably anticipated because the "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" advises the complainant of his right to sue. However, the right to sue lapses ninety days after the complainant's receipt of the notice. In this case, the copy of the notice provided to our office indicates that it was mailed to the complainant on September 9, 1999; therefore, ninety days have expired since the complainant received the notice. Because our office has not been updated to the contrary, we must presume that no suit was filed within the requisite ninety day period, and, consequently, that the right to sue was lost. Furthermore, the fact that the open records request was made by an attorney does not, in and of itself, demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Open Records Decision No. 361 (1983). Therefore, since the county has not met its section 552.103(a) burden, we conclude that the submitted information may not be withheld under this exception.
Next, you assert that the responsive information may be withheld under section 552.108. Section 552.108, the "law enforcement exception," provides as follows:
(a) Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if: (1) release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime; (2) it is information that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication; or (3) it is information that: (A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation; or (B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.
(b) An internal record or notation of a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that is maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement or prosecution is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if: (1) release of the internal record or notation would interfere with law enforcement or prosecution; (2) the internal record or notation relates to law enforcement only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication; or (3) the internal record or notation: (A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation; or (B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.
(c) This section does not except from the requirements of Section 552.021 information that is basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime.
Gov't Code § 552.108. Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977).
You explain that the responsive documents contain internal affairs investigations that are "completely filled with opinions, conclusions, advice and recommendations of the investigators." We note, however, that where no criminal investigation or prosecution results from an investigation of a police officer for alleged misconduct, section 552.108 is inapplicable. See Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. Civ. App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982). The internal affairs investigations apparently did not lead to the criminal investigation or prosecution of the police officers. Thus, the internal affairs investigation files may not be withheld from disclosure under section 552.108.
We note, however, that some of the submitted information is confidential by law. 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 other statutes. Among the information submitted for our review are print-outs that appear to contain criminal history record information ("CHRI") generated by the Texas Crime Information Center ("TCIC") or the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC") The dissemination of CHRI obtained from the NCIC network is limited by federal law. See 28 C.F.R. § 20.1; Open Records Decision No. 565 at 10-12 (1990). The federal regulations allow each state to follow its individual law with respect to CHRI it generates. Open Records Decision No. 565 at 10-12 (1990). Sections 411.083(b)(1) and 411.089(a) of the Government Code authorize a criminal justice agency to obtain CHRI; however, a criminal justice agency may not release the information except to another criminal justice agency for a criminal justice purpose, Gov't. Code § 411.089(b)(1). Other entities specified in chapter 411 of the Government Code are entitled to obtain CHRI from DPS or another criminal justice agency; however, those entities may not release CHRI except as provided by chapter 411. See generally id. §§ 411.090-.127. Thus, any CHRI generated by the federal government or another state may not be made available to the requestor except in accordance with federal regulations, see Open Records Decision No. 565 (1990), and any CHRI obtained from DPS or any other criminal justice agency must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with Government Code chapter 411, subchapter F.
You have also submitted confidential medical records for our review. The Medical Practice Act (the "MPA") protects from disclosure "[r]ecords of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician that are created or maintained by a physician." Occ. Code § 159.002(b). Texas law also prohibits the public disclosure of psychological records. Communications between a patient and a mental health professional and records of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient that are created or maintained by a mental health professional are confidential. Health & Safety Code § 611.002(a). We have marked the documents that must be withheld under the MPA and section 611.002 of the Health and Safety Code.
Furthermore, you have submitted an accident report form that appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code § 550.064 (officer's accident report). We believe access to this information is governed by provisions outside the Public Information Act. The Seventy-fifth Legislature repealed V.T.C.S. article 6701d and amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code concerning the disclosure of accident report information. Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws. 4575, 4582-4583 (to be codified at Transp. Code § 550.065). However, a Travis County district court has issued a temporary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the amendment to section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. Texas Daily Newspaper Ass'n, v. Morales, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., Oct. 24, 1997) (second amended agreed temporary injunction). A temporary injunction preserves the status quo until the final hearing of a case on its merits. Janus Films, Inc. v. City of Fort Worth, 163 Tex. 616, 617, 358 S.W.2d 589 (1962). The Supreme Court has defined the status quo as "the last, actual peaceable, non-contested status that preceded the pending controversy." Texas v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. 526 S.W.2d 526, 528 (Tex. 1975). The status quo of accident report information prior to the enactment of S.B. 1069 is governed by section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(1)
Section 47(b)(1) provides that:
The Department or a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report is required to release a copy of the report on request to:
. . . .
(D) a person who provides the Department or the law enforcement agency with two or more of the following:
(i) the date of the accident;
(ii) the name of any person involved in the accident; or
(iii) the specific location of the accident
V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, § 47(b)(1) (emphasis added). Under this provision, a law enforcement agency "is required to release" a copy of an accident report to a person who provides the law enforcement agency with two or more pieces of information specified by the statute. Id. The requestor, in this instance, has not provided the county with the statutorily required pieces of information. Therefore, the county must withhold the accident report from required disclosure.
Section 552.101 also encompasses information protected by common-law privacy and excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. Information must 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. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977); Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992). This office has determined that some personal financial information is highly intimate or embarrassing and thus meets the first part of the Industrial Foundation test. Open Records Decision Nos. 545 (1990), 523 (1989). However, information concerning financial transactions between an employee and a public employer is generally of legitimate public interest. Id. After careful review, we have marked the information that does not relate to a financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body. This information must be withheld from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the common-law right to privacy. See Open Records Decision No. 523 (1989) (deferred compensation information, mortgage payments, assets, bills, and credit history).
We also note that some of the submitted information is protected by sections 552.117(2) and 552.130. Section 552.117(2) of the Government Code excepts from public disclosure a peace officer's home address, home telephone number, social security number, and information indicating whether the peace officer has family members. Section 552.130 governs the release and use of information obtained from motor vehicle records. This office has determined that Texas drivers' license numbers, license plate numbers, and vehicle identification numbers are categories of information that are excepted from disclosure under section 552.130. We have marked the information that must be withheld from disclosure pursuant to sections 552.117(2) and 552.130.
Finally, a peace officer's photograph is excepted from public disclosure unless the officer is under indictment, the officer is a party in a civil service hearing, or the photograph is introduced as evidence in a judicial proceeding. Gov't Code § 552.119(a); Open Records Decision No. 502 (1988). Consequently, unless the officers have given their written consent or are no longer living, the county must withhold their photographic images from public disclosure under section 552.119. Open Records Decision No. 536 (1989) (provision which protects police officer's photograph ceases to apply after death of officer). Except as noted above, the submitted documents must be released to the requestor.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Dep't of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
June B. Harden
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Mr. Michael Shirk
1. Although the Seventy-fourth Legislature repealed and codified article 6701d as part of the Transportation Code, the legislature did not intend a substantive change of the law but merely a recodification of existing law. Act of May 1, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, §§ 24, 25 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 1025, 1870-71. Furthermore, the Seventy-fourth Legislature, without reference to the repeal and codification of V.T.C.S. article 6701d, amended section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S., relating to the disclosure of accident reports. Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413, 4414. Because the repeal of a statute by a code does not affect an amendment of the statute by the same legislature which enacted the code, the amendment is preserved and given effect as part of the code provision. Gov't Code § 311.031(c). Thus, the amendment of section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. is the existing law regarding the availability of accident report information, and may be found following section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. See also Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413, 4414.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US