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January 20, 2000

Ms. Katherine Minter Cary
Assistant Attorney General
Public Information Coordinator
Office of the Attorney General
P O Box 12548
Austin, Texas 78711-2548

OR2000-0201

Dear Ms. Cary:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 131554.

The Office of the Attorney General (the "attorney general") received a request for a particular child support case file. You inform us that you are releasing some of the responsive documents to the requestor. You contend, however, that the remaining records are excepted from required public disclosure by section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the submitted sample of information.(1)

You inform us that the attorney general received an earlier request for the same information to which the attorney general did not respond, either by releasing the information or by timely seeking an attorney decision. The Public Information Act requires a governmental body that seeks to withhold requested information from public disclosure to request a decision from this office within ten business days of receiving the request. Gov't Code 552.301. Otherwise, the requested information is presumed to be public and may be withhold from disclosure only if compelling reasons exist for withholding the information. Id. 552.302. The fact that information is deemed confidential by statute is a compelling reason for overcoming the presumption of openness. See Open Records Decision No. 150 (1978). Your section 552.101 claim is based on a Family Code confidentiality provision. Accordingly, we will consider your argument.

Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure information that is made confidential by law, including information made confidential by statute. Chapter 231 of the Family Code pertains to the administration of Title IV-D child support programs. Chapter 231 contains the following provisions:

Sec. 231.001. DESIGNATION OF TITLE IV-D AGENCY.

The office of the attorney general is designated as the state's Title IV-D agency.

. . .

Sec. 231.108. CONFIDENTIALITY OF RECORDS AND PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATIONS

(a) . . . all files and records of services provided under this chapter, including information concerning a custodial parent, noncustodial parent, child, and an alleged or presumed father, are confidential.

In this case, the requestor seeks information contained in the files and records of services provided under chapter 231 of the Family Code. Section 231.108(c) states:

The Title IV-D agency may . . . release information from the files and records . . . for purposes directly connected with the administration of the child support, paternity determination, parent locator, or aid to families with dependent children programs. The Title IV-D agency may release information from the files and records to a consumer reporting agency in accordance with Section 552.114.

Section 231.108(c) authorizes the attorney general to release the requested information only for purposes directly connected with the administration of child support, paternity determinations, parent locator, or aid to families with dependent children programs. In this instance, we have no information to allow us to conclude that the release is for one of the designated purposes of section 231.108(c). Therefore, we find that the requested information is confidential under section 231.108 of the Family Code. The attorney general must withhold the requested information pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code.

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.

Sincerely,

Kay H. Hastings
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

KHH/jc

Ref: ID# 131544

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Anthony Jones
3308 Courtland place
Garland, Texas 75040
(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 Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach, and therefore does not authorize the withholding of, 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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