|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 6, 1999
Ms. Barbara Heptig
Dear Ms. Heptig:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130294.
The Arlington Police Department (the "department") received a request for police reports and 911 tapes related to two addresses. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.
The Public Information Act imposes a duty on governmental bodies seeking an open records decision pursuant to section 552.301 to submit that request to the attorney general within ten business days after the governmental body's receipt of the request for information. The time limitation found in section 552.301 is an express legislative recognition of the importance of having public information produced in a timely fashion. Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ). When a request for an open records decision is not made within the time period prescribed by section 552.301, the requested information is presumed to be public. See Gov't Code § 552.302. This presumption of openness can only be overcome by a compelling demonstration that the information should not be made public. See, e.g., Open Records Decision No. 150 (1977) (presumption of openness overcome by showing that the information is made confidential by another source of law or affects third party interests).
The department provided this office with a statement indicating that the request for public information was received by the department on September 9, 1999. You did not seek a decision from this office until October 5, 1999. Consequently, you have not met your statutory burden. Gov't Code § 552.301. The requested information is therefore presumed public. In the absence of a demonstration that the requested information is confidential by law or that other compelling reasons exist as to why the information should not be made public, you must release the information. Open Records Decision No. 195 (1978).(1) You assert that the requested information is excepted from required disclosure pursuant to section 552.108 of the Government Code. Generally, the applicability of section 552.108 is not a compelling reason which would overcome the presumption that the information must be released. See Open Records Decision No. 177 at 3 (1977) (determining that the predecessor to section 552.108 was discretionary exception). Therefore, we will not address your argument under that exception. However, the application of section 552.101 of the Government Code to the submitted information does provide a compelling reason which will overcome the presumption that the information is subject to required disclosure.
You assert that the submitted information contains information that must be withheld because its release would violate the common-law right to privacy. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 552.101 also encompasses the doctrine of common-law privacy. For information to be protected from public disclosure under the common-law right of privacy, the information must meet the criteria set out in Industrial Found. v. Texas Industrial Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The court stated that information . . . is excepted from mandatory disclosure under Section 3(a)(1) as information deemed confidential by law if (1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is not of legitimate concern to the public.
540 S.W.2d at 685; Open Records Decision No. 142 at 4 (1976) (construing statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.101). In Industrial Foundation, the Texas Supreme Court considered intimate and embarrassing information such as that relating to sexual assault, pregnancy, mental or physical abuse in the workplace, illegitimate children, psychiatric treatment of mental disorders, attempted suicide, and injuries to sexual organs. 540 S.W.2d at 683; see also Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (concluding that fact that a person broke out in hives as a result of severe emotional distress is excepted by common-law privacy), 455 (1987) (concluding that kinds of prescription drugs a person is taking are protected by common-law privacy), 343 (1982) (concluding that information regarding drug overdoses, acute alcohol intoxication, obstetrical/gynecological illnesses, convulsions/ seizures, or emotional/mental distress is protected by common-law privacy).
We agree that certain information may be withheld pursuant to section 552.101. For your convenience, we have marked the information which the department must withhold.
Additionally, one of the police reports contained in "Exhibit B" involves a juvenile suspect. Section 552.101 encompasses confidentiality provisions such as Family Code section 58.007. Juvenile law enforcement records relating to conduct that occurred on or after September 1, 1997 are confidential under section 58.007. The relevant language of section 58.007(c), as amended by the Seventy-sixth Legislature,(2) reads as follows:
(c) Except as provided by Subsection (d), law enforcement records and files concerning a child and information stored, by electronic means or otherwise, concerning the child from which a record or file could be generated may not be disclosed to the public and shall be:
(1) if maintained on paper or microfilm, kept separate from adult files and records;
(2) if maintained electronically in the same computer system as records or files relating to adults, be accessible under controls that are separate and distinct from controls to access electronic data concerning adults; and
(3) maintained on a local basis only and not sent to a central state or federal depository, except as provided by Subchapter B.
Here, the report at issue involves juvenile conduct that occurred after September 1, 1997. It does not appear that any of the exceptions to section 58.007 apply. Thus, the records are made confidential pursuant to section 58.007(c) of the Family Code. We have marked the report that must be withheld in its entirety under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
Finally, although you are unable to withhold the police report in "Exhibit C," you may be nonetheless required to withhold the social security number contained therein. Social security numbers may be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 of the Government Code. A social security number or "related record" may be excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). These amendments make confidential social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. We have no basis for concluding that the social security number in the file is confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), and therefore excepted from public disclosure under section 552.101 of the Public Information Act on the basis of that federal provision. We remind you, however, that section 552.353 of the Public Information Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing any social security number information, you should ensure that no such information was obtained or is maintained by the department pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
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.
Carla Gay Dickson
Ref: ID# 130294
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Ms. Laura Baker
1. We note that the distribution of confidential information is a criminal offense. Gov't Code § 552.352.
2. Act of May 26, 1999, 76th Leg., R.S., ch. 815, §1, 1999 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 3448 (Vernon) (to be codified as an amendment to Fam. Code § 58.007).
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