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August 29, 2000

Mr. John Steiner
Division Chief
Law Department
City of Austin
P.O. Box 1546
Austin, Texas 78767-1546

OR2000-3325

Dear Mr. Steiner:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138510.

The City of Austin (the "city") received a request for the front page of a specific offense report. You state that the city does not object to the release of most of the requested information, but that information identifying the crime victim in this case is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101(1) and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision," including 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). Information is protected by the common law right to privacy if (1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the release of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is not of legitimate concern to the public. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Moreover, under section 552.101 in conjunction with common law, information may be withheld from public disclosure in special circumstances. See Open Records Decision No. 169 (1977). We consider "special circumstances" to refer to a very narrow set of situations in which release of the information would likely cause someone to face "an imminent threat of physical danger." Id. Note that special circumstances does not include "a generalized and speculative fear of harassment or retribution." Id.

You explain that release of the victim's name and other identifying information would jeopardize the victim's safety. Not only did the suspect attack the victim, but he threatened to kill her. You further state that the suspect remains at large and release of the victim's identity would enable the suspect to locate the victim and do more harm. Based on these representations, we find that the city has shown that special circumstances exist to justify withholding the victim's identity under section 552.101. Therefore, the city must withhold the highlighted portion of the submitted information.(2)

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,

E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

EJF/er

Ref: ID# 138510

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Claire Osborn
Metro Reporter
Austin American-Statesman
P.O. Box 670
Austin, Texas 78767
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. Although you do not raise this specific Government Code provision, you raise an argument that is sufficient to invoke section 552.101.

2. Because section 552.101 is dispositive of the information at issue, we do not address your claim regarding section 552.108.
 

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