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December 1, 2000

Mr. Paul C. Sarahan, Director
Litigation Division
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78771-3087

OR2000-4574

Dear Mr. Sarahan:

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# 141904.

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (the "commission") received a request for information regarding Amber Refinery Superfund Site. You indicate that responsive information relates to Paradigm Properties Management, Inc., Amber Terminal, Inc., Texas 150 Business Park, Edward A. Shaw E.S.C.M. and Associates, Restructure Petroleum Marketing Services, and Elco Corp. You relate that you have released a portion of the responsive information to the requestor. However, you contend that a portion of the responsive information is excepted from public disclosure. You have submitted to this office for review what you contend is a representative sample of responsive information excepted from disclosure by sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.111 of the Government Code.(1) We have considered the exceptions 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 determine that 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. at 481.

You have submitted pleadings which indicate that the commission is a party to a suit which is currently in litigation in the 261st Judicial District Court of Travis County, Texas. The adverse parties in this litigation are the companies identified by you as the subject of this request for information. You explain that this suit arose from an administrative enforcement action taken by the commission, involving these parties. From our review of the submitted materials, and based upon your representations, we conclude that the responsive information is related to litigation that was pending at the time that the commission received this request for information. The responsive information may therefore be withheld under section 552.103 of the Government Code.

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). Also note 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).

As the above discussion disposes of this request, your arguments raised under other sections of the Government Code will not be addressed. 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 Hadassah Schloss at 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# 141904

Encl: Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Michael Lavigne
PMB 353
8127 Mesa Drive, B-206
Austin, Texas 78759-8632
(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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