|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
July 19, 2000
Mr. John B. Dahill
Dear Mr. Dahill:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 137249.
The Dallas County District Attorney (the "district attorney") received a written request for all records pertaining to the requestor. Although the district attorney initially refused to release any of the requested records to the requestor, you now acknowledge that more than ten business days have elapsed between the date the district attorney received the records request and the date of your request to this office for a decision in this matter. See Gov't Code § 552.301(a). You further inform us that most of the requested information has now been released to the requestor. You seek to withhold, however, certain other documents pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code.
Section 552.301(a) of the Government Code requires a governmental body to release requested information or to request a decision from the attorney general within ten business days of receiving a request for information the governmental body wishes to withhold. When a governmental body fails to request a decision within ten business days of receiving a request for information, the information at issue is presumed public. Gov't Code § 552.302; Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ); City of Houston v. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co., 673 S.W.2d 316, 323 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, no writ); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). The governmental body must show a compelling interest to withhold the information to overcome this presumption. See Hancock, 797 S.W.2d at 381.
The fact that information is made confidential by law found outside the Public Information Act constitutes a compelling demonstration that the information should be withheld from the public. See Open Records Decision No. 150 (1977). Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from public disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." The requested information includes the criminal histories of several individuals. We agree that the district attorney must withhold pursuant to statutory law all criminal history information obtained from the TCIC and NCIC. The dissemination of criminal history information obtained from the NCIC network is limited by federal law. See 28 C.F.R. § 20.1; Open Records Decision No. 565 at 10-12 (1990). The federal regulations allow each state to follow its individual law with respect to CHRI it generates. Open Records Decision No. 565 at 10-12 (1990). Sections 411.083(b)(1) and 411.089(a) of the Government Code authorize a criminal justice agency to obtain criminal history information; however, a criminal justice agency may not release that information except to another criminal justice agency for a criminal justice purpose. Gov't Code § 411.089(b)(1).
We note, however, that because traffic citations do not constitute "criminal history information," see 28 C.F.R. § 20.20(b)(5), the district attorney is not prohibited from releasing this type of information under section 552.101. See generally Open Records Decision No. 465 (1987). Accordingly, the driving records contained in the documents at issue must be released to the requestor.
You also contend that the individuals' social security numbers contained in the records at issue are made confidential by federal law. This office concluded in Open Records Decision No. 622 at 3 (1994) that amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), make confidential any social security number obtained or maintained by any "authorized person" pursuant to any provision of law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990, and that any such social security number is therefore excepted from required public disclosure by section 552.101 of the Government Code.
It is not apparent to this office that the social security numbers contained in the records at issue were obtained or are maintained by the district attorney pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. Therefore, we have no basis for concluding that the social security numbers at issue were obtained or are maintained pursuant to such a statute and are therefore confidential under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See also Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177, 180, 185 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976) (social security number of arrestee contained in "police blotter" specifically held to be public information). We caution the district attorney, however, that section 552.352 of the Government Code imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing the social security numbers, the district attorney should ensure that these numbers were not obtained nor are maintained by the district attorney pursuant to any provision of law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
You also contend that some of the requested information should be withheld from disclosure under section 552.101 because it is protected by common law privacy. Section 552.101 also protects information coming within the common law right to privacy. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Common law privacy protects information if it is highly intimate or embarrassing, such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and it is of no legitimate concern to the public. Id. at 683-85.
In Industrial Foundation, the Texas Supreme Court considered intimate and embarrassing information that relates 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. 540 S.W.2d at 683. This office has also determined that common law privacy protects the following information: the kinds of prescription drugs a person is taking, Open Records Decision No. 455 (1987); the results of mandatory urine testing, id.; illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps of applicants, id.; the fact that a person attempted suicide, Open Records Decision No. 422 (1984); the names of parents of victims of sudden infant death syndrome, Attorney General Opinion JM-81; and information regarding drug overdoses, acute alcohol intoxication, obstetrical/gynecological illnesses, convulsions/seizures, or emotional/mental distress. Open Records Decision No. 343 (1982).
Upon review, we conclude that the some of the information submitted to this office is highly intimate and embarrassing. Further, we do not believe this information to be of legitimate interest to the public. The district attorney must withhold the information we have marked pursuant to common law privacy. The remaining information must be released to the requestor.
Finally, we note that the records at issue contain individuals' driver's license numbers. Although the attorney general will not ordinarily raise an exception that might apply but that the governmental body has failed to claim, see Open Records Decision No. 325 (1982) at 1, we will raise section 552.130 of the Government Code because the release of confidential information could impair the rights of third parties and because the improper release of confidential information constitutes a misdemeanor. See Government Code § 552.352. Section 552.130(a)(1) of the Government Code requires that the district attorney withhold "information [that] relates to . . . a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state." Accordingly, the district attorney must withhold all driver's license numbers appearing in the records at issue.
In summary, the district attorney must withhold criminal history information and the information we have marked pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code. Social security numbers may be confidential under federal law. The individuals' driving records must be released to the requestor.
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.
Carla Gay Dickson
Ref: ID# 137249
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Lee Edwin Caldwell