|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
April 26, 2000
Mr. Dan Fontaine
Dear Mr. Fontaine:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135831.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (the "center") received a request for all documents related to the sexual assault of a doctor at the center, including surveillance videos, security records, photographs, and employee time sheets. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted representative samples of information.(1)
Section 552.103(a) provides as follows:
(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person's office or employment, is or may be a party.
A governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show the applicability of an exception in a particular situation. The test for establishing that section 552.103(a) applies is a two-prong showing that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479 (Tex. App.-Austin 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 588 (1991). Further, litigation must be pending or reasonably anticipated on the date the requestor applies to the public information officer for access. Gov't Code § 552.103(c).
To establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated, a governmental body must provide this office "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture." Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). Concrete evidence to support a claim that litigation is reasonably anticipated may include, for example, the governmental body's receipt of a letter containing a specific threat to sue the governmental body from an attorney for a potential opposing party. Open Records Decision No. 555 (1990); see Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989) (litigation must be "realistically contemplated"). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986).
You have provided this office with a notice of claim letter against the center and law enforcement entities filed by an attorney who represents the victim of the sexual assault and her husband. The attorney asserts that the letter is a notice of his clients' claims, including claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The attorney contends that the center is liable for his clients' damages due to an unsafe work place and failure to provide adequate security. Based on the notice of claim letter, we find that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Having reviewed the submitted information, we conclude that the requested information relates to the litigation. Therefore, the center may withhold the requested information under section 552.103.
However, we note that portions of the submitted information are public under section 552.022. The information contains arrest and search warrants, as well as affidavits, which appear to have been filed with a court. Documents filed with the court are public documents and must be released. See Gov't Code § 552.002(a)(17) (providing that information contained in a public court record is public information); Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54, 57-58 (Tex. 1992).
We note that if the opposing party in the litigation has seen or had access to any of the information in these records, there is no section 552.103(a) interest in withholding that information from the requestor. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). We note that the attorney attached a copy of the supplementary police report to the notice of claim letter. The city may not withhold under section 552.103 any portion of the police report that the opposing party has seen or had access, nor may the city withhold the notice of claim letter. Further, section 552.103 does not authorize the withholding of information which has already been made available to the public. Open Records Decision No. 436 (1986). Thus, the newspaper article, "wanted" posters, and the crime awareness pamphlet may not be withheld under section 552.103. Accordingly, we have marked the documents that you must release. You may withhold the remaining information under section 552.103. However, the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation concludes. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982), Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982). Further, if the records contain information that is confidential by law, you must not release such information even at the conclusion of the litigation. Gov't Code §§ 552.101, .352.
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.
Ref: ID# 135831
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Mr. Dax Cowart
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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