|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 5, 2000
Ms. Elaine Snow
Dear Ms. Snow:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act (the "Act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 141841.
The Texas Department of Health (the "department") received a request for "transportation records for Lamar County Human Resource Council Inc. that give specific dates, rides, times, and passenger names, address and destination for the months of January, February, and March, 2000." You have submitted for our review a representative sample of the information that is responsive to the request. You assert that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the information you have provided, including the submitted representative sample of responsive information.(1)
Section 552.101 excepts from public disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Gov't Code § 552.101. Statutory confidentiality under section 552.101 requires express language providing either that certain information is confidential or that it shall not be disclosed to the public. See Open Records Decision No. 478 at 2 (1987). You inform us that the submitted information relates to the Medicaid program established under Title XIX of the federal Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 1301, et seq. You explain that the department "administers services to Medicaid clients through the Medical Transportation Program." You assert that all of the submitted information is confidential under section 552.101 in conjunction with federal and state law.
Federal and state statutes prohibit the disclosure of information concerning a state plan for medical assistance, except for a purpose directly connected with the administration of the plan. See 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(7); Hum. Res. Code §§ 12.003, 21.012; Open Records Decision Nos. 584 (1991), 166 (1977). Section 12.003 of the Human Resources Code provides in relevant part:
(a) Except for purposes directly connected with the administration of the department's assistance programs, it is an offense for a person to solicit, disclose, receive, or make use of, or to authorize, knowingly permit, participate in, or acquiesce in the use of the names of, or any information concerning, persons applying for or receiving assistance if the information is directly or indirectly derived from the records, papers, files, or communications of the department or acquired by employees of the department in the performance of their official duties.
Hum. Res. Code § 12.003(a)(emphasis added). In Open Records Decision No. 584 (1991), this office concluded that "[t]he inclusion of the words 'or any information' juxtaposed with the prohibition on disclosure of the names of the department's clients clearly expresses a legislative intent to encompass the broadest range of individual client information, and not merely the clients' names and addresses." Id. at 3. Consequently, it is the specific information pertaining to individual clients, and not merely the clients' identities, that is made confidential under section 12.003. See also Hum. Res. Code § 21.012 (a) (requiring provision of safeguards that restrict use or disclosure of information concerning applicants for or recipients of assistance programs to purposes directly connected with administration of programs). You inform us that the submitted information relates to patients who received transportation services under the Medicaid program. You state that the requested release of the information in this instance is not for use in the administration of the department's assistance programs. Based on this representation, we therefore conclude that the requested information must be withheld from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
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.
Ref: ID# 141841
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Jerry Sparks
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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