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October 30, 2000

Ms. Laura Garza Jimenez
County Attorney
County of Nueces
901 Leopard, Room 207
Corpus Christi, Texas 78401-3680

OR2000-4209

Dear Ms. Jimenez:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID # 140704.

The Nueces County Sheriff's Office (the "sheriff") received a request for information relating to an individual who is identified by the requestor as having died in the county jail.(1) You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.

Initially, we note that portions of the information in question are subject to required public disclosure under section 552.022(a) of the Government Code. Section 552.022(a) provides in relevant part:

a) [T]he following categories of information are public information and not excepted from required disclosure under [chapter 552 of the Government Code] unless they are expressly confidential under other law:

(1) a completed report, audit, evaluation, or investigation made of, for, or by a governmental body, except as provided by Section 552.108[.]

Gov't Code 552.022(a)(1). Thus, pursuant to section 552.022(a)(1), a completed report made of, for, or by a governmental body is subject to required public disclosure unless it is expressly confidential under other law or is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. The sheriff does not raise section 552.108. Section 552.103 is a discretionary exception to public disclosure that protects the interests of the governmental body and may be waived. See Dallas Area Rapid Transit v. Dallas Morning News, 4 S.W.3d 469 (Tex. App.--Dallas 1999, no pet.) (discussion of section 552.103); Open Records Decision No. 665 at 2 n.5 (2000) (discretionary exceptions generally). As such, section 552.103 is not "other law," for the purposes of section 552.022(a), that makes information expressly confidential. Therefore, information that is subject to required public disclosure under section 552.022(a)(1) may not be withheld under section 552.103. We have marked the information that the sheriff must release in accordance in section 552.022(a)(1).

You claim that the rest of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. Section 552.103, the "litigation exception," provides in relevant part:

(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person's office or employment, is or may be a party.

. . .

(c) Information relating to litigation involving a governmental body or an officer or employee of a governmental body is excepted from disclosure under Subsection (a) only if the litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the requestor applies to the officer for public information for access to or duplication of the information.

Gov't Code 552.103(a), (c). The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documentation sufficient to establish the applicability of section 552.103 to the information that it seeks to withhold. To sustain its burden, the governmental body must demonstrate: (1) that litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the governmental body receives the request for information and (2) that the information in question is related to that litigation. See University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479 (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.); see also Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). Both elements of the test must be met in order for information to be excepted from disclosure under section 552.103. Id.

In this instance, you assert that the information in question relates to two different lawsuits to which the sheriff is a party. The pleadings that you submitted reflect that both of those lawsuits were pending on the date of the sheriff's receipt of the information request. Based on your comments and submissions and our review of the information in question, we conclude that the sheriff has proven both elements of his claim under section 552.103. Therefore, the sheriff may withhold, under section 552.103, those portions of the requested information that are not subject to required public disclosure under section 552.022(a)(1).

In reaching our conclusion under section 552.103, we assume that none of the opposing parties to the pending litigation has seen or had access to any of the information that the sheriff seeks to withhold. The purpose of section 552.103 is to enable a governmental body to protect its position in litigation by forcing parties seeking information relating to that litigation to obtain it through discovery procedures. See Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4-5 (1990). Thus, if any of the opposing parties to either of the pending lawsuits previously has seen or has had access to requested information relating to the litigation, then there is no interest in withholding that information from public disclosure under section 552.103. See Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Furthermore, the applicability of section 552.103 ends once all of the related litigation concludes. See Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).

In summary, those portions of the information in question that constitute completed reports are subject to required public disclosure under section 552.022(a)(1). The sheriff must release that information. The rest of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103.

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,


James W. Morris, III
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JWM/seg

Ref: ID# 140704

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Guy H. Lawrence
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
P.O. Box 9136
Corpus Christi, Texas 78469
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. You inform us that the individual in question died at a hospital.
 

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