|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 14, 2000
Ms. J. Middlebrooks
Dear Ms. Middlebrooks:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 131514.
The Dallas Police Department (the "department"), which you represent, received a request for information related to specified Internal Affairs Division investigations. You contend that the portion of this information that relates to allegations of sexual harassment, and to a child abuse investigation, are excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Information is excepted from disclosure by section 552.101 "if it is information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 261.201 of the Family Code governs release of information related to reports of child abuse or neglect. In pertinent part it reads:
(a) The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:
(1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and
(2) except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, audiotapes, videotapes, and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.
You relate that a portion of responsive information was developed in the course of a child abuse investigation. Based on your representation and our review of the submitted materials, we conclude that service report number 009711-F consists of reports, records, and working papers used or developed in an investigation made under chapter 261 of the Family Code and is therefore confidential by statute. As you have not cited any specific rule that the department has adopted with regard to the release of this type of information, these records are presumed confidential in their entirety. See Open Records Decision No. 440 at 2 (1986). Accordingly, the department must not release this requested information.
You contend that with the exception of the findings and the statement of the accused, the materials in the IAD control number 92-471-P file are excepted from disclosure by the common law right of privacy. Information may be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with the common-law right to privacy if (1) it contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that release of the information would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) it is of no legitimate concern to the public. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 685 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The court addressed the applicability of the common law privacy doctrine to files of an investigation of allegations of sexual harassment in Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied). The investigation files in Ellen contained individual witness statements, an affidavit by the individual accused of the misconduct responding to the allegations, and conclusions of the board of inquiry that conducted the investigation. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d at 525. The court ordered the release of the affidavit of the person under investigation and the conclusions of the board of inquiry, stating that the public's interest was sufficiently served by the disclosure of such documents. Id. In accordance with Ellen, we conclude that the findings and the statement of the accused in the IAD control number 92-471-P file must be released with the identities of the witnesses and the alleged victim redacted or withheld. The remainder of the information in this file must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the common law right of privacy.
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.
Michael Jay Burns
Ref: ID# 131514
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Dave Michaels