Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 18, 2002
Ms. Mia Settle-Vinson
Dear Ms. Settle-Vinson:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173862
The City of Houston (the "city") received a request for the city's file pertaining to a certain individual's slip and fall incident. You state that the city has released some of the responsive documents. You claim, however, that the submitted information is excepted under sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.107 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
You contend that the majority of Exhibit 3 is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by other statutes. Access to EMS records is governed by the provisions of section 773.091 of the Health and Safety Code. Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). Section 773.091 of the Health and Safety Code provides in pertinent part as follows:
(b) Records of the identity, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by emergency medical services personnel or by a physician providing medical supervision that are created by the emergency medical services personnel or physician or maintained by an emergency medical services provider are confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
. . . .
(g) The privilege of confidentiality under this section does not extend to information regarding the presence, nature of injury or illness, age, sex, occupation, and city of residence of a patient who is receiving emergency medical services. . . .
The submitted EMS records consist of records of the identity, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by emergency medical services personnel. Section 773.091(b) thus protects from disclosure the submitted EMS records. See Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). However, information regarding the presence, nature of injury or illness, age, sex, occupation, and city of residence of a patient is not confidential. Health & Safety Code § 773.091(g).
Section 773.092 of the Health and Safety Code provides for the release of confidential EMS records in certain circumstances. Therefore, if section 773.092 applies, the city must release the EMS records to the requestor. See Health & Safety Code §§ 773.092, .093; Open Records Decision No. 632 (1995). Otherwise, the city must withhold the records under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 773.091(b) of the Health and Safety Code, except for information required to be released under section 773.091(g).
We note, however, that submitted prescription numbers located on a pharmacy receipt are neither "records of the identity, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by emergency medical services personnel or by a physician providing medical supervision," nor do they appear to be "created by the emergency medical services personnel or physician or maintained by an emergency medical services provider." See Health & Safety Code § 773.091(b). Accordingly, this information may not be withheld from disclosure on the basis of section 773.091(b) of the Health and Safety Code. As you do not raise, nor are we aware of, any provision of law making this information confidential, you may not withhold the pharmacy receipt from required public disclosure.
You next contend that Exhibit 2 is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. Section 552.103(a) provides as follows:
(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.
A governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show the applicability of an exception in a particular situation. The test for establishing that section 552.103(a) applies is a two-prong showing 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 (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.); Open Records Decision No. 588 (1991). Further, litigation must be pending or reasonably anticipated on the date the requestor applies to the public information officer for access. Gov't Code § 552.103(c).
To establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated, a governmental body must provide this office "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture." Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). Concrete evidence to support a claim that litigation is reasonably anticipated may include, for example, the governmental body's receipt of a letter containing a specific threat to sue the governmental body from an attorney for a potential opposing party. Open Records Decision No. 555 (1990); see Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989) (litigation must be "realistically contemplated"). On the other hand, this office has determined that if an individual publicly threatens to bring suit against a governmental body, but does not actually take objective steps toward filing suit, litigation is not reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision No. 331 (1982). Nor does the mere fact that an individual hires an attorney and alleges damages serve to establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Open Records Decision No. 361 at 2 (1983). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). In Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996), this office stated that a governmental body has met its burden of showing that litigation is reasonably anticipated when it received a notice of claim letter and the governmental body represents that the notice of claim letter is in compliance with the requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA"), Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, ch. 101, or an applicable municipal ordinance.
You have provided a copy of an affidavit wherein a Senior Assistant City Attorney states that "a claim was filed against the City under the [TTCA]" by the requestor, who represents the individual who slipped and fell. Accordingly, we agree that the city has shown that litigation is reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996). Furthermore, we find that the requested information relates to the anticipated litigation. Thus, the information requested may be withheld under section 552.103 with the following exception.
Generally, once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Thus, information that has either been obtained from or provided to the opposing party in the anticipated litigation is not excepted from disclosure under section 552.103(a), and it must be disclosed. Further, 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 we base our ruling on sections 552.101 and 552.103, we need not address your other claimed exceptions to disclosure.
In summary, the city may withhold Exhibit 2 from disclosure based on section 552.103. The EMS records submitted as Exhibit 3 must be released only in accordance with subchapter D of chapter 773 of the Health and Safety Code. Finally, the city must release to the requestor a pharmacy receipt located within Exhibit 3.
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.
c: Mr. Norman L. Straub
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US