|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
August 14, 2000
Ms. Stephanie K. Stephens
Dear Ms. Stephens:
This letter is in response to your fax to this office dated August, 10, 2000. You ask this office to examine Open Records Letter No. 2000-2943 (2000) and whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140017.
The Waller County Sheriff's Office (the "sheriff's office") received a request for twenty items of information including the personnel files of certain peace officers. In your original request for a decision in this matter, you indicated that the personnel files of the peace officers were released to the requestor with confidential information redacted. You did not send the redacted information to this office for a ruling. We stated that because you did not ask this office for a decision and "[b]ecause you have not submitted the information, we have no basis for finding it confidential. Thus we have no choice but to order the information responsive [to the request] released in its entirety per section 552.302."
You ask this office to examine Open Records Letter No. 2000-2943 in light of the text on page thirty-five of the 2000 Public Information Handbook published by this office. Page thirty-five of the handbook states that a governmental body may rely on earlier decisions regarding section 552.117(2) as previous determinations for purposes of section 552.301(a), thereby making peace officers' home addresses and home telephone numbers confidential. Therefore, as this office has made a previous determination regarding this information, you state, in reliance upon section 552.301(a), that you need not request a decision from the attorney general in order to withhold section 552.117(2) information.
After reviewing your arguments and page thirty-five of the handbook, we conclude you correctly relied on previous rulings by this office as previous determinations, and need not have requested a decision from this office in order to withhold the information. Therefore, we now overrule Open Records Letter No. 2000-2943 to the extent that it conflicts with this decision. We conclude that the peace officers' home addresses and telephone numbers are confidential and must not be released by the sheriff's office.
In regards to the other information responsive to items 10 and 19 that the sheriff's office redacted, you ask whether you must release this information or file a civil suit in order to withhold the information. You did not seek an attorney general decision for the following information: 1) "Positive Declarations of Psychological Health," 2) criminal history information, 3) photographs of peace officers, 4) driver's license numbers, and 5) background financial information. As stated previously, by failing to request a decision from the attorney general when a governmental body wishes to withhold information and by not submitting the requested information to this office, the sheriff's office did not comply with the requirements of section 552.301. If a governmental body fails to comply with section 552.301, the information is presumed to be public. Gov't Code § 552.302. This letter pertains only to the peace officers' home addresses and telephone numbers. Therefore, because the remaining information responsive to items 10 and 19, enumerated above, was not originally submitted to this office for a ruling, we have no basis for finding it confidential. Thus, we have no choice but to order the information released per section 552.302. If you believe the information is confidential and may not be lawfully released, you must challenge the ruling in court as delineated below.
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 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.
Katherine Minter Cary
Ref: ID# 140017
cc: Mr. William E. Parham
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US