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September 18, 2000

Mr. Terrence S. Welch
Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollan,
Kever & McDaniel, L.L.P.
3000 Bank One Center
1717 Main Street, Suite 3000
Dallas, Texas 75201-4335

OR2000-3580

Dear Mr. Welch:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 139187.

The Town of Flower Mound (the "town"), which you represent, received a request for six categories of information related to the construction of the town's Police and Courts Building. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. You have provided a representative sample of the requested information.(1) We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.103(a), the "litigation exception," excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party. To secure the protection of section 552.103(a), a governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479, 481 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.). Further, to be excepted under section 552.103, the information must relate to litigation that is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the information was requested. Gov't Code 552.103(c). To demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated, the governmental body must furnish concrete evidence that litigation involving a specific matter is realistically contemplated and is more than mere conjecture; the mere chance of litigation will not establish the litigation exception. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Id. This office has concluded that litigation was reasonably anticipated when the following facts have been alleged or shown: the potential adversary filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, see Open Records Decision No. 336 (1982); the potential adversary hired an attorney who made a demand for disputed payments and threatened to sue if the payments were not made promptly, see Open Records Decision No. 346 (1982); the governmental body received a claim letter that it represents to this office to be in compliance with notice requirements of Texas Tort Claims Act, Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code ch. 101, or applicable municipal ordinance. See Open Records Decision Nos.638 (1996), 288 (1981)

Here, you indicate that the town has terminated a construction contract and that the contractor has hired an attorney. Further, the attorney notified the town that the contractor's position is that the city's termination of this contract would constitute breach of contract which would result in pursuit of all legal remedies available. Also, the town has notified the surety of the project of the cancellation of the contract and that surety directed non-payment under the contract. Lastly, numerous claims have been filed by subcontractors for non-payment. We conclude that you have shown from the totality of the circumstances that litigation was reasonably anticipated in this matter on the date that the town received the request for information.

To determine whether the information relates to the anticipated or pending litigation, we follow the rule that "ordinarily, the words 'related to' mean 'pertaining to,' 'associated with' or 'connected with.'" University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479, 481 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no pet.). From our review of your comments and the submitted information, we conclude that this information relates to the anticipated litigation.

However, absent special circumstances, where the opposing party to the anticipated litigation has had access to the records at issue, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). If the opposing parties in the anticipated litigation have seen or had access to any of the information in these records, there is no justification for now withholding that information from the requestor pursuant to section 552.103(a). We note that the submitted information has all apparently been made available to the opposing party in the anticipated litigation, and must therefore be released. Any other information related to this anticipated litigation that the opposing party has not had access to may be withheld. Note however that the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has been concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).

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 Jay Burns
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

MJB/er

Ref: ID# 139187

Encl: Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Edward S. Cox
Pratt & Sandford, P.C.
Attorneys and Counselors
Brookhollow Two
2221 East Lamar Boulevard, Suite 150
Arlington, Texas 76006
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. We assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach, and therefore does not authorize the withholding of, any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.
 

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