December 9, 2002
Ms. Wendy Denson
Dear Ms. Denson:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173303.
The Williamson County Sheriff's Department (the "sheriff") received two requests from the same individual for an audiotape and other information relating to two specified cases. You indicate that the sheriff has released some of the requested information. You appear to claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.
Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from required public disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision."(1) This exception encompasses information that another statute makes confidential. Chapter 261 of the Family Code is applicable to information that relates to reports and investigations of alleged or suspected child abuse or neglect. Section 261.201 of the Family Code provides in part:
(a) The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:
(1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and
(2) except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, audiotapes, videotapes, and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.
Fam. Code § 261.201(a). We find that section 261.201(a) is applicable to the submitted information. See also Open Records Decision No. 440 at 2 (1986) (construing predecessor statute). You do not inform this office that the sheriff has adopted any rules that would allow the release of the submitted information in this instance. We therefore assume that no such rule exists. Given that assumption, we conclude that the submitted information is confidential in its entirety under section 261.201 of the Family Code and thus must be withheld from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code as information made confidential by law.(2) As we are able to make this determination, we need not address section 552.108.
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 Texas Building and Procurement 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. We note that a third party may challenge this ruling by filing suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor. Gov't Code § 552.325. 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.
James W. Morris, III
c: Ms. Sarah Satterlee
1. Unlike other exceptions to disclosure, this office will raise section 552.101 on behalf of a governmental body, because chapter 552 of the Government Code makes the release of confidential information a criminal offense. See Gov't Code §§ 552.007, .352; Open Records Decision No. 325 at 1 (1982).
2. We note that a parent or other legal representative of a victim of alleged child abuse or neglect may be entitled to obtain portions of the requested information from the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. See Fam. Code § 261.201(g).
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