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August 28, 2000

Ms. Dianne O. Florez
Reeves County Clerk
Reeves County
P.O. Box 867
Pecos, Texas 79772

OR2000-3313

Dear Ms. Florez:

You have asked whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act (the "Act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140246.

The Reeves County Clerk received a request for "all your digital Real Property deed/land/ (Official Records) and indexes." You received the request on April 11, 2000 and have not raised any of the Act's exceptions against required public disclosure. You acknowledge that your request for a decision from the attorney general is not within the statutory deadline required by section 552.301 of the Government Code.

Subsections 552.301(a) and (b) provide:

(a) A governmental body that receives a written request for information that it wishes to withhold from public disclosure and that it considers to be within one of the [act's] exceptions . . . must ask for a decision from the attorney general about whether the information is within that exception if there has not been a previous determination about whether the information falls within one of the exceptions.

(b) The governmental body must ask for the attorney general's decision and state the exceptions that apply within a reasonable time but not later than the 10th business day after the date of receiving the written request.

In this case, this office did not receive the request for a decision within the ten business day period mandated by section 552.301(a). Because the request for a decision was not timely received, the requested information is presumed to be public information. Gov't Code 552.302.

In order to overcome the presumption that the requested information is public information, a governmental body must provide compelling reasons why the information should not be disclosed. Id.; Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ); see Open Records Decision No. 630 (1994). You have not raised any specific compelling reasons to overcome the presumption that the information is public. Thus, we conclude that the information must be released to the requestor. We caution that the distribution of confidential information constitutes a criminal offense. Gov't Code 552.352.

Furthermore, you opine that the request is overbroad and that you have no digital records. Numerous opinions of this office have addressed situations in which a governmental body has received either an "overbroad" written request for information or a written request for information that the governmental body is unable to identify. Open Records Decision No. 561 at 8-9 (1990) states:

We have stated that a governmental body must make a good faith effort to relate a request to information held by it. Open Records Decision No. 87 (1975). It is nevertheless proper for a governmental body to require a requestor to identify the records sought. Open Records Decision Nos. 304 (1982); 23 (1974). For example, where governmental bodies have been presented with broad requests for information rather than specific records we have stated that the governmental body may advise the requestor of the types of information available so that he may properly narrow his request. Open Records Decision No. 31 (1974).

Gov't Code 552.222(b) (governmental body may ask requestor to clarify request if request for information is unclear). Therefore, in response to the request at issue here, you must make a good-faith effort to relate the request to information in your possession and must help the requestor to clarify his request by advising him of the types of information available. However, a request for records made pursuant to the Act may not be disregarded simply because a citizen does not specify the exact documents he desires. Open Records Decision No. 87 (1975).

In order to provide further guidance, we have enclosed this office's 2000 Public Information Handbook. In addition, we encourage you to visit our web site at www.oag.state.tx.us for additional guidance.

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 Dep't 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,

Yen-Ha Le
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

YHL/ljp

Ref: ID# 140246

Encl: 2000 Public Information Handbook

cc: Ms. Terri Wilmoth
Assistant Manager
Texas Document Imaging and Retrieval Systems, LLC
P.O. Box 4010
Palestine, Texas 75802-4010
(w/o enclosures)


 

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