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April 17, 2000

Lieutenant Brad Lancaster
Amarillo Police Department
200 East 3rd
Amarillo, Texas 79101-1514

OR2000-1506

Dear Lieutenant Lancaster:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134402.

The City of Amarillo Police Department (the "department") received a request for incident report number 2000-12541 from a representative of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services ("TDPRS"). 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 reviewed the submitted information.

You assert that the requested information is protected by common law privacy under section 552.101. Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision," including information protected by the common law right of privacy. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 683-85 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The doctrine of common law privacy protects information if it is highly intimate or embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the public has no legitimate interest in it. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977).

The types of information considered intimate and embarrassing by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation include information 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. Id. at 683. In Open Records Decision No. 262 (1980), this office stated that information about a patient's injury or illness might be protected under common law privacy if such injury or illness relates to drug overdoses, acute alcohol intoxication, gynecological or obstetrical illnesses, convulsions and seizures, or emotional and mental distress. See also Open Records Decision No. 539 at 5 (1990) (information concerning emotional state may be protected by common law privacy). After careful review, we conclude that the narrative information in incident report number 2000-12541 is highly intimate or embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the public would have no legitimate interest in it. Therefore, the information is excepted from disclosure to the public under section 552.101.

Notwithstanding the conclusion above, the request for information submitted to the department is not from a member of the public but from another governmental entity. We ruled in Open Records Decision No. 661 (1999) that whether a governmental entity may release information to another governmental entity is not a question under the Public Information Act (the "Act") as the Act is concerned with the required release of information to the public. Gov't Code 552.001, .002, .021; see Attorney General Opinions, H-683 (1975), H-242 (1974), M-713 (1970); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997). For many years, this office has recognized that it is the public policy of this state that governmental bodies should cooperate with each other in the interest of the efficient and economical administration of statutory duties. See, e. g., Attorney General Opinion H-836 (1976); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997). But see Attorney General Opinions DM-353 at 4 n. 6 (1995) (interagency transfer prohibited where confidentiality statute enumerates specific entities to which release of confidential information is authorized and where receiving agency is not among statute's enumerated entities), JM-590 (1986) (same); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997) (same), 650 (1996) (transfer of confidential information to federal agency impermissible unless federal law requires its disclosure). In adherence to this policy, this office has acknowledged that information may be transferred between governmental bodies without violating its confidential character on the basis of a recognized need to maintain an unrestricted flow of information between governmental bodies. See Attorney General Opinions H-836 (1976), H-242 (1974), M-713 (1970); Open Records Decision Nos. 655 (1997), 414 (1984). Accordingly, the department has the discretion to release the requested information to TDPRS.

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,

Rose-Michel Munguía
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

RMM/ch

Ref: ID# 134402

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Diana Hewitt
Texas Department of Protective Services
6200 I-40 West
Amarillo, Texas 79106
(w/o enclosures)


 

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