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

September 6, 2000

Ms. Mary J. Kaiser
City Secretary
City of Burleson
141 West Renfro
Burleson, Texas 76028-4261

OR2000-3440

Dear Ms. Kaiser:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#140292.

The City of Burleson (the "city") received a request for records relating to several incidents. You claim that "[t]wo of the incidents requested" are excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 261.201 of the Family Code. We assume that you have released any other information responsive to the request. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

We note at the outset that the city has failed to submit to this office, within fifteen business days of its receipt, a copy of the written request as required by section 552.301(e)(1)(B). Therefore, pursuant to section 552.302, the city must release the requested information unless there is a "compelling reason" to withhold the information. A "compelling reason" for withholding information under section 552.302 would be that the information is confidential by law or implicates third party interests. See, e.g., Open Records Decision No. 150 (1977). In this case, as you assert that the requested information relates to the sexual abuse of a child, and as such is confidential by law, we will address your argument under section 552.101 of the Government Code.

Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 261.201(a) of the Family Code provides as follows:

(a) The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:

(1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and

(2) except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.

Because the requested documents relate to allegations of child abuse, the documents are within the scope of section 261.201 of the Family Code. You have not indicated that the city has adopted a rule that governs the release of this type of information. Therefore, we assume that no such regulation exists. Given that assumption, the requested documents are confidential pursuant to section 261.201 of the Family Code. See Open Records Decision No. 440 at 2 (1986) (predecessor statute). Accordingly, the city must withhold these documents from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code as information made confidential by law.(1) Furthermore, because section 261.201(a) protects all "files, reports, communications, and working papers" related to an investigation of child abuse, the city must not release front page offense report information in cases of alleged child abuse.

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).

Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497.

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 A. Pearle
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

MAP/ljp

Ref: ID# 140292

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Donna Smith
925 Vaughn
Burleson, Texas 76028
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. We note, however, that if the Texas Department of Regulatory Services has created a file on this alleged abuse, the child's parent(s) may have the statutory right to review that file. See Fam. Code 261.201(g).
 

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