|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 7, 2000
Mr. Miles K. Risley
Dear Mr. Risley:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 131507.
The City of Victoria (the "city") received a request for offense reports involving the requestor and her estranged husband since May, 1999. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.108(a)(1) provides an exception from disclosure for information that is held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime, when release of such information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. You explain that there is a pending criminal investigation relating to the requested offense reports. Since there is a pending criminal investigation, we agree that you have shown that release of this information would interfere with the investigation of crime. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976) (court delineates law enforcement interests that are present in active cases); see Open Records Decision No. 216 at 3 (1978) (release of information during pending criminal case would interfere with prosecution of crime and law enforcement interests).
We note, however, that information normally found on the front page of an offense report is generally considered public. Houston Chronicle Publishing Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). Thus, you must release the type of information that is considered to be front page offense report information, even if this information is not actually located on the front page of the offense report. See Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976) (summarizing the types of information deemed public by Houston Chronicle, including but not limited to the location of the incident, time of occurrence, and a description of the incident).
The submitted information also includes 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 Association, 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 provides that "Except as provided by Subsection (b) of this section, all accident reports . . . [are] privileged and for the confidential use of the Department and agencies . . . having use for the records for accident prevention purposes." V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, § 47(a). 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 not provided the department with the statutorily required information. Therefore, according to subsection (a), the information is confidential and you must withhold the accident report from the requestor.
We therefore conclude that, except for front page offense report information, section 552.108 of the Government Code excepts the requested records from required public disclosure, although you may choose to release all or part of the information at issue that is not otherwise confidential by law. Gov't Code § 552.007.
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.
Patricia Michels Anderson
Ref: ID# 131507
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Pamela Rosalez
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.
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