|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 18, 2000
Mr. Leonard W. Peck, Jr.
Dear Mr. Peck:
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# 141763.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the "department") received a request for information concerning a named inmate. You claim that the information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, and 552.131 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
We will first address the applicability of section 552.131(a) of the Government Code to the requested information. Section 552.131(a) provides:
Except as provided by Subsection (b) or by Section 552.029 [of the Government Code], information obtained or maintained by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is information about an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under a contract with the department.
Section 552.029 of the Government Code provides in relevant part:
Notwithstanding Section 508.313 or 552.131, the following information about an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under a contract with [the department] is subject to required disclosure under Section 552.021:
. . . .
(8) basic information regarding the death of an inmate in custody, an incident involving the use of force, or an alleged crime involving the inmate.
Upon review of the submitted information, we conclude that the department may withhold most of the information from the requestor under section 552.131(a), as it is "information about an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under a contract with the department." We note, however, that section 552.131 is explicitly made subject to section 552.029. Under section 552.029(8), "basic information" regarding an alleged crime involving an inmate is subject to required disclosure. Although you set forth reasons why the department is reluctant to classify the incident involving the named inmate as an allegation of crime, our review of the records leads us to the conclusion that a crime was alleged in this instance. Accordingly, with regard to the information you submitted, pursuant to section 552.029(8), the department may not withhold basic information regarding the alleged crime based on section 552.131. Basic information includes the time and place of the incident, names of the inmates and department officials directly involved, a brief narrative of the incident, a brief description of any injuries sustained, and information regarding disciplinary actions filed as a result of the incident.
In summary, the department must release basic information under section 552.029(8) of the Government Code. The rest of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.131.
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.
June B. Harden
Ref: ID# 141763
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Ramon Rincon
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US