|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 31, 2000
Mr. Craig H. Smith
Dear Mr. Smith:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 131804.
The Texas Workers' Compensation Commission (the "commission") received a request for a copy of the requestor's personnel file and all documents pertaining to his termination from the commission. You state that the commission intends to release some of the requested information, but you claim that the submitted portion of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.102 and 552.107 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
We begin with the submitted documents that you claim are excepted under section 552.107(1) of the Government Code.(1) Section 552.107(1) excepts from disclosure information that an attorney cannot disclose because of a duty to his client. In Open Records Decision No. 574 (1990), this office concluded that section 552.107(1) excepts from public disclosure only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions; it does not apply to all client information held by a governmental body's attorney. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5 (1990). When communications from attorney to client do not reveal the client's communications to the attorney, section 552.107(1) protects them only to the extent that such communications reveal the attorney's legal opinion or advice. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 3 (1990). In addition, basically factual communications from attorney to client, or between attorneys representing the client, are not protected. Id. The documents you wish to withhold under section 552.107 consist of draft memoranda and handwritten notes that were forwarded to the commission's deputy general counsel for review and legal advice. We find that these documents constitute attorney-client communications that are excepted under section 552.107(1). Accordingly, the commission may withhold this packet of documents.
Next, we address the documents that you claim are excepted under section 552.102 of the Government Code. Section 552.102(a) protects "information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy . . . ." The scope of section 552.102(a) protection, however, is very narrow. See Open Records Decision No. 336 (1982). See also Attorney General Opinion JM-36 (1983). The test for section 552.102(a) protection is the same as that for information protected by common law privacy under section 552.101: the information must contain highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the information must be of no legitimate concern to the public. Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Tex. Newspapers, Inc., 652 S.W.2d 546, 550 (Tex. App.--Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.).
The submitted information pertains to the basis for the requestor's termination from the commission. You argue that the names of other commission employees who complained about or witnessed the requestor's behavior during his employment are confidential under common law privacy. However, there is a legitimate public interest in the work behavior of public employees and how they perform job functions. 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), 405 (1983) (employee performance audit not protected by privacy), 284 (1981) (letters of recommendation not protected by privacy). Therefore, we find that none of the submitted information may be withheld based on a right of privacy. Accordingly, the commission may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.102.(2)
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.
E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Ref: ID# 131804
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Robert S. Kuehner
1. You divided the submitted documents into two packets: one that you claim is excepted under section 552.107 and the other that you claim is excepted under section 552.102.
2. While some of the submitted information might arguably implicate the privacy rights of the requestor, the commission must nevertheless release the information because the requestor has a special right of access to information relating to himself. See Gov't Code § 552.023.