December 23, 1999
Mr. Mark B. Taylor
City of San Marcos
630 East Hopkins
San Marcos, Texas 78666
Dear Mr. Taylor:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130509.
The San Marcos Police Department (the "department") received a request for documents relating to a specific motor vehicle accident. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, we note that you have submitted an accident report form that appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code § 550.064 (officer's accident report). We believe access to this information is governed by provisions outside the Public Information Act. The Seventy-fifth Legislature repealed V.T.C.S. article 6701d and amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code concerning the disclosure of accident report information. Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws. 4575, 4582-4583 (to be codified at Transp. Code § 550.065). However, a Travis County district court has issued a temporary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the amendment to section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. Texas Daily Newspaper Ass'n, v. Morales, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., Oct. 24, 1997) (second amended agreed temporary injunction). A temporary injunction preserves the status quo until the final hearing of a case on its merits. Janus Films, Inc. v. City of Fort Worth, 163 Tex. 616, 617, 358 S.W.2d 589 (1962). The Supreme Court has defined the status quo as "the last, actual peaceable, non-contested status that preceded the pending controversy." Texas v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. 526 S.W.2d 526, 528 (Tex. 1975). The status quo of accident report information prior to the enactment of S.B. 1069 is governed by section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(1)
Section 47(b)(1) provides that:
The Department or a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report is required to release a copy of the report on request to:
. . . .
(D) a person who provides the Department or the law enforcement agency with two or more of the following:
(i) the date of the accident;
(ii) the name of any person involved in the accident; or
(iii) the specific location of the accident
V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, § 47(b)(1) (emphasis added). Under this provision, a law enforcement agency "is required to release" a copy of an accident report to a person who provides the law enforcement agency with two or more pieces of information specified by the statute. Id. In this instance, the requestor has provided the department with the statutorily required information. Therefore, the department must release the accident report to the requestor.
Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party. The county has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that the section 552.103(a) exception is applicable in a particular situation. The test for meeting this burden is a showing 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, 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). The county must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103(a).
The mere chance of litigation will not trigger section 552.103(a). Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). 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.(2) 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). 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). After reviewing your arguments, we conclude that you have not demonstrated that litigation is reasonably anticipated. Thus, you may not withhold the responsive information under section 552.103(a).
We note, however, that the submitted documents contain social security numbers that may be confidential by law. 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. You have cited no law, nor are we are aware of any law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990, that authorizes the department to obtain or maintain a social security number. Therefore, we have no basis for concluding that the social security numbers at issue are confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(vii)(I). We caution, however, that section 552.353 of the Government Code imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing any social security number, you should ensure that the number was not obtained or maintained by the department pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records 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 records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
June B. Harden
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division
Ref: ID# 130509
Encl. Submitted documents and photographs
cc: Mr. Don R. Cotton
The Bob Richardson Law Firm
812 San Antonio Street, Suite 300
Austin, Texas 78701
1. Although the Seventy-fourth Legislature repealed and codified article 6701d as part of the
Transportation Code, the legislature did not intend a substantive change of the law but merely a recodification
of existing law. Act of May 1, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, §§ 24, 25 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 1025, 1870-71.
Furthermore, the Seventy-fourth Legislature, without reference to the repeal and codification of V.T.C.S.
article 6701d, amended section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S., relating to the disclosure of accident reports.
Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413, 4414. Because the repeal of
a statute by a code does not affect an amendment of the statute by the same legislature which enacted the code,
the amendment is preserved and given effect as part of the code provision. Gov't Code § 311.031(c). Thus,
the amendment of section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. is the existing law regarding the availability of
accident report information, and may be found following section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. See
also Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413, 4414.