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December 30, 1999

Mr. Kevin McCalla
Director - General Law Division
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

OR99-3812

Dear Mr. McCalla:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130971.

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (the "commission") received a request for, among other things, the names of all individuals who have registered complaints against Harbor Grove Water Supply or its president. You contend that the requested information is excepted from disclosure pursuant to the informer's privilege as incorporated into section 552.101 of the Government Code.

The "informer's privilege" aspect of section 552.101 protects the identity of persons who report violations of the law. Although the privilege 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); Open Records Decision Nos. 285 (1981), 279 (1981); see also Open Records Decision No. 208 (1978). This may include enforcement of quasi-criminal civil laws. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 (1988), 391 (1983).

You do not explain, nor is it apparent to this office, precisely which laws carrying criminal or quasi-criminal penalties have been alleged to have been violated. When information does not describe conduct that violates such a law, the informer's privilege does not apply. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 (1988), 191 (1978). Because this office has no basis on which to conclude that the informer's privilege applies in this instance, we conclude that the commission must release the requested information.

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 Department 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.

Sincerely,

Patricia Michels Anderson
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

PMA/RWP/jc

Ref: ID# 130971

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Scott Baird
3708 Lynchburg Drive
Corinth, Texas 76208
(w/o enclosures)


 

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