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April 24, 2000

Ms. Kristi LaRoe
Assistant District Attorney
County of Tarrant
401 West Belknap
Fort Worth, Texas 76196-0201

OR2000-1591

Dear Ms. LaRoe:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act (the "act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134613.

The Tarrant County Sheriff's Department received a request for information related to a traffic stop and shooting. On behalf of the Sheriff's Department, you seek to withhold most of the information responsive to the request under sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.108 of the Government Code. You have submitted representative samples of the information at issue.(1)

We note initially that you did not submit your request for the decision of this office within ten business days of your receipt of the request for information as required by section 552.301(b). The time limitation found in section 552.301 is an express legislative recognition of the importance of having public information produced in a timely fashion. Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ). When a request for an open records decision is not made within the time period prescribed by section 552.301, the requested information is presumed to be public. See Gov't Code 552.302. This presumption of openness can only be overcome by a compelling demonstration that the information should not be made public. See, e.g., Open Records Decision No. 150 (1977) (presumption of openness overcome by a showing that the information is made confidential by another source of law or affects third party interests).

In this case, you assert that the law enforcement interests of the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office furnish a compelling reason for withholding the requested information. We disagree. The District Attorney's Office is handling this open records request on behalf of the Sheriff's Department. We think it would be anomalous to excuse your office's untimeliness in seeking a decision on behalf of the Sheriff's Department, based on the needs of your own office. Compare Open Records Decision No. 586 (1991) (law enforcement interests of Department of Public Safety provide compelling reason to overcome a district attorney's failure to comply with the ten-day deadline). Accordingly, the requested information must be released except for confidential information contained therein.

Sections 552.024 and 552.117(1) provide that a public employee or official can opt to keep private his or her home address, home telephone number, social security number, or information that reveals that the individual has family members. Such information pertaining to a peace officer must be withheld regardless of whether the officer has complied with section 552.024. Gov't Code 552.117(2).

It appears that the submitted records may contain information subject to section 552.117. If that is the case, you must withhold such information if, as of the time of the request for the information, the employee had elected to keep the information private, or, if the subject was a peace officer, regardless of whether the officer had made such election. Open Records Decision Nos. 530 (1989), 482 (1987), 455 (1987).

Section 552.130 provides in relevant part:

(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if the information relates to:

(1) a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state; [or]

(2) a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state[.]

The records at issue contain drivers license and license plate number information that is made confidential under section 552.130. You must withhold these types of information pursuant to section 552.130. Except as noted above, you 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,

William Walker
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

WMW/ljp

Ref: ID# 134613

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Samuel C. Bishop
Bishop & Bishop
P.O. Box 809
Decatur, Texas 76234
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. In reaching our conclusion, 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 No. 499 (1988), 497 (1988) (where requested documents are numerous and repetitive, governmental body should submit representative sample; but if each record contains substantially different information, all must be submitted). 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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