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May 8, 2000

Mr. Gary W. Smith
City Clerk
City of Baytown
P.O. Box 424
Baytown, Texas 77522-0424

OR2000-1760

Dear Mr. Smith:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135435.

The City of Baytown Police Department (the "department") received a request for all information the department has regarding a specific traffic accident. You submit an accident report and an offense report relating to the specific traffic accident. You have released some of the information to the requestor. You claim that the remaining information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.108, and 552.130 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

First we will consider the accident report which you have released to the requestor in which certain information was redacted prior to its release. You assert that the information was redacted pursuant to section 552.130 of the Government Code. We note that the accident report form appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code 550.064 (officer's accident report). We believe access to this information is governed by provisions outside the Public Information Act. The Seventy-fifth Legislature repealed V.T.C.S. article 6701d and amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code concerning the disclosure of accident report information. Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws. 4575, 4582-4583 (to be codified at Transp. Code 550.065). However, a Travis County district court has issued a temporary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the amendment to section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. Texas Daily Newspaper Association, v. Morales, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., Oct. 24, 1997) (second amended agreed temporary injunction). A temporary injunction preserves the status quo until the final hearing of a case on its merits. Janus Films, Inc. v. City of Fort Worth, 163 Tex. 616, 617, 358 S.W.2d 589 (1962). The Supreme Court has defined the status quo as "the last, actual peaceable, non-contested status that preceded the pending controversy." Texas v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. 526 S.W.2d 526, 528(Tex.1975). The status quo of accident report information prior to the enactment of S.B. 1069 is governed by section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(1)

Section 47(b)(1) provides that:

The Department or a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report is required to release a copy of the report on request to:

. . . .

(D) a person who provides the Department or the law enforcement agency with two or more of the following:

(i) the date of the accident;

(ii) the name of any person involved in the accident; or

(iii) the specific location of the accident

V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, 47(b)(1) (emphasis added). Under this provision, a law enforcement agency "is required to release" a copy of an accident report to a person who provides the law enforcement agency with two or more pieces of information specified by the statute. Id. In this instance, as the requestor has provided the statutorily required information, we conclude that you must release the accident report to the requestor. Section 552.130 does not apply to the information contained in the accident report, as the accident report is governed by a statute outside of the Public Information Act (the "Act"). Therefore, the accident report must be released in its entirety.

Next, it appears from your arguments that you are asserting that the submitted offense report is excepted from public disclosure under section 552.108(a)(2). Section 552.108(a)(2) excepts from disclosure information concerning an investigation that concluded in a result other than conviction or deferred adjudication. You contend that because no charges were filed, the requested information pertains to a case that concluded in a result other than conviction or deferred adjudication. Based on our review of the submitted documents, we agree that the case concluded in a result other than conviction or deferred adjudication. Consequently, we find that section 552.108(a)(2) excepts the highlighted information in the offense report from public disclosure.

However, section 552.108 is inapplicable to basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime. Gov't Code 552.108(c). We believe such basic information refers to the information held to be public in Houston Chronicle Publishing Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App. --Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976). Thus, with the exception of the basic front page offense and arrest information, you may withhold the requested information from disclosure based on section 552.108(a)(2). We note that you have the discretion to release all or part of the remaining information that is not otherwise confidential by law. Gov't Code 552.007.

Because we were able to make a determination under section 552.108(a)(2), we need not consider the other exceptions you claim. 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,

Noelle C. Letteri
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

ncl/nc

Ref: ID# 135435

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Scott C. Lannie
Lannie & VanCleave, P.L.L.C.
3814 Highway 146
Baytown, Texas 77520
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. Although the Seventy-fourth Legislature repealed and codified article 6701d as part of the Transportation Code, the legislature did not intend a substantive change of the law but merely a recodification of existing law. Act of May 1, 1995, 74th Leg., R. S., ch. 165, 24, 25 1995 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 1025, 1870-71. Furthermore, the Seventy-fourth Legislature, without reference to the repeal and codification of V.T.C.S. article 6701d, amended section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S., relating to the disclosure of accident reports. Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, 1, 1995 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 4413, 4414. Because the repeal of a statute by a code does not affect an amendment of the statute by the same legislature which enacted the code, the amendment is preserved and given effect as part of the code provision. Gov't Code 311.031(c). Thus, the amendment of section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. is the existing law regarding the availability of accident report information. See Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, 1, 1995 Tex. Sess.. Law Serv. 4413, 4414.
 

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