|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
April 13, 1999
Dear Ms. DeSalme:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 123849.
The Bexar County Sheriff's Office (the "sheriff's office") received a request for information concerning the custodial death of a particular inmate. You contend that the requested information is excepted from disclosure pursuant to section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the documents at issue.
Initially, we note that the submitted documents include an autopsy report. Autopsy reports prepared by a medical examiner are expressly made public by the Code of Criminal Procedure. Code Crim. Proc. art. 49.25, § 11. Therefore, you must release the autopsy report to the requestor.
The submitted documents also include a custodial death report. This office has concluded that Part I of a custodial death report is public information in accordance with article 49.18(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. See Open Records Decision No. 521 (1989). Parts II through V of the report are not public information. See id. The sheriff's office must release Part I of the custodial death report.
Next, we will consider your section 552.103 claim for the remaining information. Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) is applicable in a particular situation. In order to meet this burden, the governmental body must show 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, 212 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). The governmental body must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under 552.103(a).
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.(1) 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). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986).
You have submitted a letter from an attorney representing relatives of the deceased. The attorney gives notice of his intention to file a civil action against the sheriff's office regarding the custodial death. Thus, we conclude that the sheriff's office reasonably anticipates litigation, and that the documents at issue relate to the anticipated litigation. We note, however, that information normally found on the front page of an offense report is generally considered public. See Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976); Open Records Decision Nos. 597 (1991), 362 (1983), 127 (1976). Thus, you must release the type of information that is considered to be front page offense report information, even if this information is not actually located on the front page of the incident report. Except for the autopsy and custodial death reports, you may withhold the requested information from disclosure pursuant to section 552.103(a).(2)
We are resolving this matter with an informal letter ruling rather than with a published open records decision. This ruling is limited to the particular records at issue under the facts presented to us in this request and should not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have questions about this ruling, please contact our office.
Ref: ID# 123849
Enclosures: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Bill M. Reimer
1. In addition, this office has concluded that litigation was reasonably anticipated when the potential opposing party took the following objective steps toward litigation: filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, see Open Records Decision No. 336 (1982); hired an attorney who made a demand for disputed payments and threatened to sue if the payments were not made promptly, see\ Open Records Decision No. 346 (1982); and threatened to sue on several occasions and hired an attorney, see Open Records Decision No. 288 (1981).
2. We note that if the opposing parties in the litigation have seen or had access to any of the information at issue, there would be no justification for withholding that information pursuant to section 552.103(a). Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). In addition, the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US