Click for home page Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
John Cornyn
image
 

June 23, 2000

Ms. Margaret Hoffman
Litigation Division
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

OR2000-2405

Dear Ms. Hoffman:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 136520.

The Natural Resource Conservation Commission (the "commission") received a request for information related to the regulation of Ellis County cement plants. You claim that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.107 and 552.111 of the Government Code. You have supplied responsive information to this office for review.(1) We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

You contend that the portion of certain communications between two commission employees which contains legal opinions communicated to one of those employees by an attorney in the course of performing legal services for the commission is privileged. You assert that this information is protected from disclosure under section 552.107 of the Government Code. Section 552.107 provides in relevant part that information is excepted from required public disclosure if

it is information that the attorney general or an attorney of a political subdivision is prohibited from disclosing because of a duty to the client under the Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Rules of Criminal Evidence, or the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Gov't Code 552.107(1). Although the scope of section 552.107(1) would appear to be co-extensive with that of rule 1.05 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits an attorney from divulging "confidential information," this office has concluded that such an interpretation of rule 1.05 would be in potential conflict with the purposes of chapter 552 of the Government Code. See Open Records Decision No. 574 at 4-5 (1990) (construing predecessor statute). Accordingly, this office has determined that section 552.107(1) protects only what rule 1.05 describes as "privileged" information, i.e., information that represents confidential communications between attorney and client. Id. at 5. "Unprivileged" information, as defined by rule 1.05, is not excepted from disclosure under section 552.107(1). Id. Thus, section 552.107(1) excepts from disclosure only factual information or requests for legal advice communicated by the client to the attorney and legal advice or opinion rendered by the attorney to the client or to an associated attorney in the course of rendering legal services to the client. Id. at 7-8. From our review of the information which you have submitted, we conclude that the portion that you have identified as excepted by section 552.107 reveals the advice or opinion of an attorney performing legal services for the commission and that the parties to this communication are representatives of the commission. The commission may withhold this information under section 552.107.

You also seek to withhold portions of communications under section 552.111 of the Government Code. This section excepts from disclosure "an interagency or intra agency 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 do not encompass internal administrative or personnel matters, and disclosure of information about such matters will not inhibit free discussion of policy issues among agency personnel. Open Records Decision No. 613 (1993); see also City of Garland v Dallas Morning News, 2000 WL 21029 (Tex. Jan. 13, 2000, pet. filed (personnel communications not relating to agency's policymaking not excepted from public disclosure pursuant to section 552.111). An agency's policymaking functions include administrative and personnel matters of broad scope that affect the governmental body's policy mission. See Open Records Decision No. 631 (1995). In addition, section 552.111 does not protect facts and written observation of facts and events that are severable from advice, opinions, and recommendation. Open Records Decision No. 615. If, however, the factual information is so inextricably intertwined with material involving advice, opinion, or recommendation as to make separation of the factual data impractical, that information may be withheld under section 552.111. Open Records Decision No. 313 (1982). From our review of the submitted information, we conclude that the portions that you have identified as excepted by section 552.111 are internal communications consisting of advice, recommendations, opinions, and other material reflecting the policymaking processes of the commission. The commission may withhold this information under section 552.111 of the Government Code.

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,

Michael Jay Burns
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

MJB/nc

Ref: ID# 136520

Encl Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Jim Schermbeck
707 Wiley Street
Cedar Hill, Texas 75104
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. You represent that you have submitted a "representative" sample of the information you assert is protected under section 552.111. 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. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988).
 

POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US
An Equal Employment Opportunity Employer


Home | ORLs