|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
May 21, 1999
Ms. Monica Strickland
Dear Ms. Strickland:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 124966.
The City of Midland (the "city") received a request for three categories of information concerning a city police officer, including disciplinary, investigation, and employment records. You state that the city does not have any disciplinary records regarding the officer. You argue that the responsive information, submitted as Exhibits B - E, is excepted from disclosure by sections 552.101and 552.102 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the documents at issue.
Section 552.102 excepts from disclosure "information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Gov't Code § 552.102(a). In Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Texas Newspapers, 652 S.W.2d 546 (Tex. App.--Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.), the court ruled that the test to be applied to information claimed to be protected under section 552.102 is the same as the test formulated by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation for information claimed to be protected under the doctrine of common-law privacy as incorporated by section 552.101 of the act. Industrial
Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Therefore, we will address whether section 552.101 applies to the requested information.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 552.101 encompasses common-law and constitutional privacy. Common-law privacy excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Therefore, information may be withheld from the public when (1) it is highly intimate and embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) there is no legitimate public interest in its disclosure. Id. at 685; Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992).
The constitutional right to privacy protects two interests. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 4 (1992) (citing Ramie v. City of Hedwig Village, 765 F.2d 490 (5th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1062 (1986)). The first is the interest in independence in making certain important decisions related to the "zones of privacy" recognized by the United States Supreme Court. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 4 (1992). The zones of privacy recognized by the United States Supreme Court are matters pertaining to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education. See id.
The second interest is the interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. The test for whether information may be publicly disclosed without violating constitutional privacy rights involves a balancing of the individual's privacy interests against the public's need to know information of public concern. See Open Records Decision No. 455 at 5-7 (1987) (citing Fadjo v. Coon, 633 F.2d 1172, 1176 (5th Cir. 1981)). The scope of information considered private under the constitutional doctrine is far narrower than that under the common law; the material must concern the "most intimate aspects of human affairs." See Open Records Decision No. 455 at 5 (1987) (citing Ramie v. City of Hedwig Village, 765 F.2d 490, 492 (5th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1062 (1986)).
This office has found that the following types of information are excepted from required public disclosure under constitutional or common-law privacy: some kinds of medical information or information indicating disabilities or specific illnesses, see Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (illness from severe emotional and job-related stress), 455 (1987) (prescription drugs, illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps), and personal financial information not relating to the financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body, see Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992), 545 (1990), and information concerning the intimate relations between individuals and their family members.
See Open Records Decision No. 470 (1987). We have examined the submitted documents and find that one document, a handwritten letter dated Monday, is protected by the common-law right of privacy. We have marked the document that must be withheld under section 552.101. The remaining materials are not protected by a right of privacy and may not be withheld on that basis. Open Records Decision No. 470 (1987) (public employee's job performance does not generally constitute his private affairs); see Open Records Decision Nos. 506 (1988) (public officials and employees have a minimal expectation of privacy), 212 (constitutional privacy rights of public officials are of a very limited scope).
You also claim that portions of Exhibits B - E, including identities and witness statements, are protected from disclosure by the informer's privilege. Courts in Texas have recognized the informer's privilege. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969). It protects from disclosure the identities of persons who report activities over which the governmental body has criminal or quasi-criminal law-enforcement authority, provided that the subject of the information does not already know the informer's identity. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 3 (1988) 208 at 1-2 (1978). The informer's privilege protects the identities of individuals who report violations of statutes to the police or similar law-enforcement agencies, as well as those who report violations of statutes with civil or criminal penalties to "administrative officials having a duty of inspection or of law enforcement within their particular spheres." Open Records Decision No. 279 at 2 (1981) (citing Wigmore, Evidence, § 2374, at 767 (McNaughton rev. ed. 1961)). The report must be of a violation of a criminal or civil statute. See Open Records Decision Nos. 582 at 2 (1990), 515 at 4-5 (1988). We have examined Exhibit B and the information you have highlighted in Exhibits C and D. We do not believe that any of the information or identities are protected by the informer's privilege. See Tex. R. Evid. 508(c)(2). Further, the subject of the information in Exhibit D appears to already know the informer's identity. See Tex. R. Evid. 508(c)(1). None of the requested information may be withheld under the informer's privilege.
You next claim that the social security numbers of police officers in the requested information are protected from disclosure. You have marked the information you seek to withhold. Section 552.117 provides that information may be withheld if it is:
information that relates to the home address, home telephone number, social security number, or that reveals whether the following person has family members:
. . .
(2) a peace officer as defined by Article 2.12, Code of Criminal Procedure, or a security officer commissioned under Section 51.212, Education Code.
Consequently, you must withhold, under section 552.117, the officer's home address, home telephone number, social security number, and information revealing whether the officer has family members. Code Crim. Proc. art. 2.12; Open Records Decision Nos. 532 (1989), 530 (1989); cf. Open Records Decision Nos. 622 at 6 (1994).
After reviewing the submitted information, we believe that other material must be withheld from disclosure. Federal regulations prohibit the release of Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) maintained in state and local CHRI systems to the general public. See 28 C.F.R. § 20.21(c)(1) ("Use of criminal history record information disseminated to noncriminal justice agencies shall be limited to the purpose for which it was given."), (2) ("No agency or individual shall confirm the existence or nonexistence of criminal history record information to any person or agency that would not be eligible to receive the information itself."). Section 411.083 provides that any CHRI maintained by the Department of Public Safety ("DPS") is confidential. Gov't Code § 411.083(a). Similarly, CHRI obtained from the DPS pursuant to statute is also confidential and may only be disclosed in very limited instances. Id. § 411.084; see also id. § 411.087 (restrictions on disclosure of CHRI obtained from DPS also apply to CHRI obtained from other criminal justice agencies). We have marked CHRI in the submitted information which you must withhold from the requestor.
Additionally, the Seventy-fifth Legislature added section 552.130 to the Open Records Act which governs the release and use of information obtained from motor vehicle records. Section 552.130 provides as follows:
(a) Information is excepted from [required disclosure] if the information relates to:
(1) a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state;
(2) a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state; or
(3) a personal identification document issued by an agency of this state or a local agency authorized to issue an identification document.
(b) Information described by Subsection (a) may be released only if, and in the manner, authorized by Chapter 730, Transportation Code.
Gov't Code § 552.130. We have marked information which you must withhold pursuant to section 552.130.
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# 124966
encl.: Marked documents
cc: Ms. Ruby Morris
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US