|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
June 22, 2000
Ms. Tenley A. Aldredge
Dear Ms. Aldredge:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 136361.
Travis County (the "county") received two requests for inspection reports and any health-related reports and correspondence regarding the Cornerstone Building, 1300 Guadalupe, in Austin. One request sought the information from the time the county first leased the building and the other wanted information from January 1, 1997, to the date of the request. You state that you have released "the vast majority of the responsive documents to the requestor," but claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, and 552.111 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by other statutes. You assert that some of the requested information is confidential under the Medical Practice Act (the "MPA"). Some of the records at issue are medical records, access to which is governed by the MPA, chapter 159 of the Occupations Code. Section 159.002 of the MPA provides:
(b) A record of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician that is created or maintained by a physician is confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
(c) A person who receives information from a confidential communication or record as described by this chapter, other than a person listed in Section 159.004 who is acting on the patient's behalf, may not disclose the information except to the extent that disclosure is consistent with the authorized purposes for which the information was first obtained.
The medical records must be released upon the patient's signed, written consent, provided that the consent specifies (1) the information to be covered by the release, (2) reasons or purposes for the release, and (3) the person to whom the information is to be released. Occ. Code §§ 159.004, .005. Section 159.002(c) also requires that any subsequent release of medical records be consistent with the purposes for which the governmental body obtained the records. Open Records Decision No. 565 at 7 (1990). Medical records may be released only as provided under the MPA. Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). For your convenience, we have marked the documents in Exhibit C which we agree are medical records subject to the MPA.
Section 552.101 also encompasses common law privacy and excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Therefore, information may be withheld from the public when (1) it is highly intimate and embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) there is no legitimate public interest in its disclosure. Id. at 685; Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992).
The type of information considered intimate and embarrassing by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation included 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. Industrial Foundation, 540 S.W.2d at 683; see Open Records Decision Nos. 339 (1982), 205 (1978). Additionally, this office has found that the following type of information is excepted from required public disclosure under common law privacy: some kinds of medical information or information indicating disabilities or specific illnesses, see Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (illness from severe emotional and job-related stress), 455 (1987) (prescription drugs, illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps). We do not find any of the highlighted information in either exhibit to be protected by common law privacy under section 552.101.
However, the county may be required to withhold some of the information pursuant to section 552.117 of the Government Code. Section 552.117 excepts from required public disclosure the home addresses, home telephone numbers, social security numbers, or information revealing whether a public employee has family members of public employees who request that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. Therefore, section 552.117 requires you to withhold those pieces of information of a current or former employee or official who requested that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. See Open Records Decision Nos. 622 (1994), 455 (1987). Both exhibits B and C contain some section 552.117 information. You may not, however, withhold the information of a current or former employee who made the request for confidentiality under section 552.024 after this request for information was made. Whether a particular piece of information is public must be determined at the time the request for it is made. Open Records Decision No. 530 at 5 (1989).(1)
As to Exhibit B, you assert that highlighted portions are protected by section 552.107 or 552.111 of the Government Code. Section 552.107(1) excepts information that an attorney cannot disclose because of a duty to his client. In Open Records Decision No. 574 (1990), this office 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. Id. at 5. Although it is not clear to us for each email submitted which correspondent is an attorney, you state that the communications are between various county employees or division chiefs and assistant county attorneys, and that the communications were made for the purpose of facilitating advice from the attorneys. It appears to us that you have endeavored to highlight only information that reflects confidential communications from a client to an attorney or an attorney's legal advice or opinion; therefore, you may withhold all highlighted information you have marked as subject to section 552.107.
Also in regards to Exhibit B, you assert protection from required disclosure under section 552.111. Section 552.111 excepts "an interagency or intraagency memorandum or letter that would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency." In Open Records Decision No. 615 (1993), this office reexamined the predecessor to the section 552.111 exception in light of the decision in Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408 (Tex. App.--Austin 1992, no writ), and held that section 552.111 excepts only those internal communications consisting of advice, recommendations, opinions, and other material reflecting the policymaking processes of the governmental body. An agency's policymaking functions, however, do not encompass internal administrative or personnel matters; disclosure of information relating to such matters will not inhibit free discussion among agency personnel as to policy issues. Open Records Decision No. 615 at 5-6 (1993). In addition, section 552.111 does not except from disclosure purely factual information that is severable from the opinion portions of internal memoranda. Id. at 4-5. Section 552.111 also does not except communication between a governmental body and another party who is not acting on behalf of the governmental body in an official capacity. While some of the information you have marked as protected under section 552.111 relates to the policy functions of the county, some of the information contained in these documents is purely factual. We have marked those portions of the documents that may be withheld from required public disclosure under section 552.111. The remaining information must be released.
In summary, the county must withhold all section 552.117 information for those current or former employees or officials who requested that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. The county may withhold information you have marked as protected from required disclosure under section 552.107, and may withhold the information we have marked as protected by section 552.111. The county must release the remaining information, except that the county may release the medical records only in accordance with the MPA.
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.
Patricia Michels Anderson
Ref: ID# 136361
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Francisco Espanza
cc: Ms. Jane Frank
1. Social security numbers may also be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). Social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990, are confidential. See id. We have no basis for concluding that any of the social security numbers in the file are confidential under that federal provision and therefore excepted from public disclosure under section 552.101. Prior to releasing any social security number information, you should ensure that no such information was obtained or is maintained by the county pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
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