|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 6, 2000
Mr. Fletcher H. Brown
Dear Mr. Brown:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130932.
The Bowie Memorial Hospital and Nocona General Hospital (the "hospitals"), which you represent, received a request for a list of names and addresses of clients who have delinquent accounts and the amount owed.(1) You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with 241.152 of the Health and Safety Code. We have considered the exception you claim.
Pursuant to section 552.301(e), a governmental body is required to submit to this office within fifteen business days of receiving an open records request (1) general written comments stating the reasons why the stated exceptions apply that would allow the information to be withheld, (2) a copy of the written request for information, (3) a signed statement or sufficient evidence showing the date the governmental body received the written request, and (4) a copy of the specific information requested or representative samples, labeled to indicate which exceptions apply to which parts of the documents. Gov't Code § 552.301(e). You have not submitted to this office copies or representative samples of the specific information that was requested or a signed statement or sufficient evidence showing the date the hospitals received the written request.
Pursuant to section 552.302 of the Government Code, a governmental body's failure to submit to this office the information required in section 552.301(e) results in the legal presumption that the information is public and must be released. Gov't Code § 552.302. The Public Information Act requires the release of public information unless a governmental body demonstrates that the stated exceptions apply. See Gov't Code § 552.301. Because you have not submitted the requested documents, we are unable to rule on the applicability of section 241.152 of the Health and Safety Code to the requested information.(2) Thus, the hospitals must release the information unless they can demonstrate to a court that the information is confidential by law. See Gov't Code § 552.324. We note that the distribution of confidential information is a criminal offense under the Public Information Act. Gov't Code § 552.353. The hospitals may not rely on this ruling as an affirmative defense for releasing any confidential information.
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.
Ref: ID# 130932
cc: Mr. P. Choate
1. In your letter, you request this office to consolidate the two identical requests by the same requestor received by the hospitals.
2. Section 241.152(a) provides that "a hospital or an agent or employee of a hospital may not disclose health care information about a patient to any person other than the patient without the written authorization of the patient or the patient's legally authorized representative." "Health care information" means "information recorded in any form or medium that identifies a patient and relates to the history, diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis of a patient." Health & Safety Code § 241.151(2).
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