ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TEXAS
March 12, 2009
Mr. Hyattye O. Simmons
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
P.O. Box 660163
Dallas, Texas 75266-0163
Dear Mr. Simmons:
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# 337072.
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (the "transit") received a request for ten categories of information related to the transit's relationship with Premier Gems, Inc. ("Premier Gems"). You state you are releasing the requested financial reports, payroll deductions, cancelled checks, and bank statements. You claim the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.103, 552.107, 552.111, and 552.137 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative sample of information. (1)
You state that a portion of the requested information is the subject of a previous request for information, in response to which this office issued Open Records Letter No. 2008-12415 (2008). In the prior ruling, this office determined that the transit must withhold the information we had marked under sections 552.130 and 552.136 of the Government Code. In addition, except for what we marked for release, the transit may withhold the remaining information at issue under section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have no indication that the law, facts, and circumstances on which the prior ruling was based have changed. Therefore, the transit must continue to rely on Open Records Letter No. 2008-12415 as a previous determination and withhold or release the requested information in accordance with the prior ruling. See Open Records Decision No. 673 (2001) (so long as law, facts, and circumstances on which prior
ruling was based have not changed, first type of previous determination exists where requested information is precisely same information as was addressed in prior attorney general ruling, ruling is addressed to same governmental body, and ruling concludes that information is or is not excepted from disclosure).
We now address your argument under section 552.103 of the Government Code for the information not subject to the prior ruling. Section 552.103 provides in relevant part 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.
(c) Information relating to litigation involving a governmental body or an officer or employee of a governmental body is excepted from disclosure under Subsection (a) only if the litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the requestor applies to the officer for public information for access to or duplication of the information.
Gov't Code § 552.103(a), (c). A governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that the section 552.103 exception is applicable in a particular situation. The test for meeting this burden is a showing that (1) litigation was pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the governmental body received the request for information, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. Univ. of Tex. Law Sch. v. Tex. Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479, 481 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210, 212 (Tex. App.-- Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). A governmental body must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103.
The question of whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. See Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). To establish 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). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. See id. 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). This office has also stated that a pending Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaint indicates that litigation is reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision Nos. 386 at 2 (1983), 336 at 1 (1982). On the other hand, this office has determined 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). Further, the fact that a potential opposing party has hired an attorney who makes a request for information does not establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Open Records Decision No. 361 (1983).
In this instance, you state the transit received a letter in which Premier Gems' attorney threatened to sue the transit for a delinquent payment. You further state the transit tendered payment to Premier Gems, but Premier Gems "continues to dispute the amount [the transit] tendered and now seeks attorney fees." Based upon your representations and our review, we conclude that the transit reasonably anticipated litigation on the date that it received this request for information. In addition, you state that the submitted information contains e-mails that document the business relationship between Premier Gems and the transit. Thus, upon review of the information at issue and your representations, we find that the information relates to the anticipated litigation. Accordingly, we conclude that section 552.103 is applicable to the submitted information, and it may be withheld on that basis. (2)
We note, however, that once information has been obtained by all parties to the pending 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 when the litigation has concluded or is no longer reasonably anticipated. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 at 2 (1982); Open Records Decision Nos. 350 at 3 (1982), 349 at 2 (1982).
This letter ruling is limited to the particular information 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 information or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For more information concerning those rights and responsibilities, please visit our website at http://www.oag.state.tx.us/open/index_orl.php, or call the Office of the Attorney General's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at (877) 673-6839. Questions concerning the allowable charges for providing public information under the Act must be directed to the Cost Rules Administrator of the Office of the Attorney General at (512) 475-2497.
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division
Ref: ID# 337072
Enc. Submitted documents
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.
2. As our ruling is dispositive, we need not address your remaining arguments.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US