|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
August 9, 1999
Mr. Duncan R. Fox
Dear Mr. Fox:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 127725.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (the "department") received a request for a certain report filed by a department trooper. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103(a) of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
When asserting section 552.103(a), a governmental body must establish that the requested information relates to pending or reasonably anticipated litigation. Section 552.103(a) excepts from required public disclosure information:
(1) relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature or settlement negotiations, 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; and
(2) that the attorney general or the attorney of the political subdivision has determined should be withheld from public inspection.
Thus, under section 552.103(a) a governmental body's burden is two-pronged. The governmental body must establish that (1) litigation is either pending or reasonably anticipated, and (2) the requested information relates to that litigation. See 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).
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). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986).
Under Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996), a governmental body may establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated by (1) showing that it has received a claim letter from an allegedly injured party or his attorney, and (2) stating that the letter complies with the notice of claim provisions of the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA") or applicable municipal statute or ordinance. You have submitted to this office a letter from an attorney representing a party allegedly injured by the actions of a department trooper. The attorney's letter indicates that he is making a claim under the TTCA against the department for his client's injuries. You represent that the letter appears to comply with the notice provisions of the TTCA. Thus, the department has met its burden of showing that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Additionally, we have reviewed the records, and our review shows that they are related to the anticipated litigation. We conclude that the information at issue may be withheld pursuant to section 552.103(a).
In reaching this conclusion, however, we assume that the opposing party to the anticipated litigation has not previously had access to the records at issue; absent special circumstances, once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation, e.g., through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). If the opposing parties in the anticipated litigation have seen or had access to any of the information in these records, there would be no justification for now withholding that information from the requestor pursuant to section 552.103(a). We also note that 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).
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.
Sue M. Lee
Ref: ID# 127725
encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Alan E. Warrick
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US