|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 3, 2000
Mr. Roland Castaneda
Dear Mr. Castaneda:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#130820.
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit ("DART") received a request for information related to the demotion of a particular DART employee, as well as for information related to the demotion or discipline of other DART employees. You state that you have released most of the responsive information. You claim, however, that the remaining responsive information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.108, 552.117, 552.122, and 552.130 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, you claim that the responsive information may be withheld under section 552.108. Section 552.108, the "law enforcement exception," provides as follows:
(a) [i]nformation held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from [public disclosure] if: (1) release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime; (2) it is information that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication; or (3) it is information that: (A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation; or (B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.
(b) An internal record or notation of a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that is maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement or prosecution is excepted from [public disclosure] if: (1) release of the internal record or notation would interfere with law enforcement or prosecution; (2) the internal record or notation relates to law enforcement only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication; or (3) the internal record or notation: (A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation; or (B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.
(c) This section does not except from [public disclosure] information that is basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime.
Gov't Code § 552.108. Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977).
You state that the submitted information contains internal administrative investigation files concerning several DART Transit Police officers. You state that the disclosure of these files might subject the officers investigated to harassment or intimidation, or negatively impact the cooperation that Transit Police officers receive in future police activities. We note, however, that where no criminal investigation or prosecution results from an investigation of a police officer for alleged misconduct, section 552.108 is inapplicable. See Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. Civ. App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied)(section 552.108 not applicable where no criminal investigation or prosecution of police officer resulted from investigation of allegation of sexual harassment); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982) (predecessor provision of section 552.108 not applicable to IAD investigation file when no criminal charge against officer results from investigation of complaint against police officer). The internal affairs investigations apparently did not lead to the criminal investigation or prosecution of the Transit Police officers. Consequently, you may not withhold these investigative files under section 552.108.
Next, you contend that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. Section 552.101 of the Government Code 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 and excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. See Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Information must be withheld under common-law privacy 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)). After careful review, we do not believe that the submitted information is protected in its entirety by common-law or constitutional privacy. See, e.g., Open Records Decision Nos. 470 at 4 (1987) (public has legitimate interest in job performance of public employees), 444 (1986) (employee information about qualifications, disciplinary action and background not protected by privacy), 423 at 2 (1984) (scope of public employee privacy is narrow).
We note, however, that certain medically-related information is protected by common-law privacy. See Open Records Decision Nos. 478 (1987), 455 (1987) (results of mandatory urine testing, illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps of applicants). We also note that information revealing the designation of beneficiaries of insurance and retirement funds is confidential under the right of privacy. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 10 (1992). Furthermore, it appears that some of the submitted information relates to an employee's voluntary allocation of his salary to investment and retirement programs offered by DART. This office has ruled that participation is such plans is a personal financial decision that is protected by section 552.101. See Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992) (federal tax Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate; designation of beneficiary of employee's retirement benefits; direct deposit authorization; and forms allowing employee to allocate pretax compensation to group insurance, health care or dependent care), 545 (1990) (deferred compensation information, mortgage payments, assets, bills, and credit history), 523 (1989). On the other hand, financial information that reflects the employee's mandatory contributions to DART's retirement system or health plan must be disclosed. Open Records Decision No. 600 (1992). For your convenience, we have marked the information in the submitted documents that must be withheld under section 552.101.
You also argue that the information submitted in "Attachment D" is excepted from disclosure under section 552.122(b). Section 552.122(b) excepts from disclosure test items developed by a licensing agency or governmental body. In Open Records Decision No. 626, this office determined that the term "test item" in section 552.122(b) includes any standard means by which an individual's or group's knowledge or ability in a particular area is evaluated, but does not encompass evaluations of an employee's overall job performance or suitability. Whether information falls within the section 552.122(b) exception must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 626 (1994).
You indicate that the test questions and individual answers in "Attachment D" were developed as a standardized means to evaluate an individual or group's knowledge or ability in areas required of bus drivers. After reviewing the submitted questions and individual answers, we conclude that questions one through twenty-three, and their corresponding answers, are protected "test items," and may be withheld. The remaining questions are not "test items" as contemplated by section 552.122(b) because they do not involve "an evaluation of an applicant's knowledge in a particular area." Open Records Decision No. 626 (1994). Consequently, questions twenty-four through thirty-five and their corresponding answers must be released.
Next, you state that certain addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, and personal family information in "Attachment C" are excepted from disclosure under section 552.117 of the Government Code. Section 552.117 excepts from required public disclosure the home addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, or information revealing whether a public employee has family members when the public employee requests that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. Therefore, section 552.117 requires you to withhold this information of a current or former employee or official who requested that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. See Open Records Decision Nos. 622 (1994), 455 (1987). You may not, however, withhold the information of a current or former employee who made the request for confidentiality under section 552.024 after this request for information was made. Whether a particular piece of information is public must be determined at the time the request for it is made. Open Records Decision No. 530 at 5 (1989). Therefore, if the employee has elected to not allow public access to this information in accordance with the procedures of section 552.024 of the Government Code, we believe that you must withhold this information from required public disclosure pursuant to section 552.117. We have marked the information that must be withheld if the employee made a proper election under section 552.024.
Finally, you assert that motor vehicle records in "Attachment C" are excepted from disclosure under section 552.130. Section 552.130 of the Government Code excepts information that relates to a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state or a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state. Section 552.130, by its terms, only applies to motor vehicle information issued by the State of Texas. Since the driver's license number found in "Attachment C" was issued by a foreign jurisdiction, we conclude that you may not withhold this information under section 552.130.
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 Dep't 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
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Kyle Ramsey