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March 9, 2000

Ms. Ruth H. Soucy
Manager, Open Records Division
Comptroller of Public Accounts
P.O. Box 13528
Austin, Texas 78711-3528

OR2000-0958

Dear Ms. Soucy:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#132804.

The Comptroller of Public Accounts ("the Comptroller") received a request for documents related to a particular review along with documents regarding the Comptroller's implementation of HB3211. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under Government Code sections 552.103 and 552.107. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted representative sample of information.(1)

You contend a portion of the requested information is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against the Comptroller and is protected under section 552.103. Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) is applicable in a particular situation. To show that section 552.103 is applicable, the governmental body must demonstrate that: 1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date of the request, and 2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. Gov't Code 552.103(c); University of Tex. Law Sch, v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479, 481 (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).

You have submitted a copy of an original petition naming the Comptroller as defendant. Having reviewed the portion of the representative information that you have identified as excepted under section 552.103, we conclude that these documents are related to this litigation for purposes of section 552.103. Thus, you may withhold these documents from public disclosure under section 552.103.

Generally, however, once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Therefore, information that has either been obtained from or provided to the opposing party in the litigation is not excepted from disclosure under section 552.103(a), and it must be disclosed. We also note that the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).

For the remaining documents, you assert attorney-client privilege. Section 552.107(1) excepts information that an attorney cannot disclose because of a duty to his client. We have concluded that section 552.107 excepts from public disclosure only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions; it does not apply to all client information held by a governmental body's attorney. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5 (1990). When communications from attorney to client do not reveal the client's communications to the attorney, section 552.107 protects them only to the extent that such communications reveal the attorney's legal opinion or advice. Id. at 3. In addition, basically factual communications from attorney to client, or between attorneys representing the client, are not protected. Id. You explain that all of the information contained in the remaining documents consists of privileged attorney-client communications.

We have reviewed this information and conclude that it consists of both factual information and the legal opinions and advice provided to the Comptroller by her attorneys. We have marked the information that may be withheld under section 552.107(1).

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,

E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

EJF/CHS/ljp

Ref: ID# 132804

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Sands L. Stiefer
Chief Deputy and General Counsel
Harris County Appraisal District
P.O. Box 920975
Houston, Texas 77292-0975
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. In reaching our conclusion here, 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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