|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 31, 2000
Ms. Janice Marie Wilson
Dear Ms. Wilson:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 132292.
The Texas Department of Transportation (the "department") received a request for information pertaining to an automobile accident. You contend that the requested information is excepted from disclosure pursuant to sections 552.101, 552.103, 552.107, and 552.111 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Before considering the exceptions which you claim except the requested information from public disclosure, we will address your assertion that the tangible physical items which were requested do not constitute public information. We agree that the product requested and its container are tangible items and are not public information as that term is defined in section 552.002 of the Government Code. We, therefore, determine that the requested product and its container are not the kind of information made public by section 552.021 of the Government Code.
Additionally, you state the department received a request for the registered name of the magnesium chloride and the name, address, and telephone number of the company that produced the magnesium chloride. You state the department does not have such information. The Public Information Act (the "Act") does not require a governmental body to prepare new information in response to open records requests. Open Records Decisions Nos. 452 (1986), 342 (1982).
Furthermore, the Public Information Act does not ordinarily require a governmental body to obtain new information in order to comply with a request. Open Records Decision No. 561 (1990). The Act only applies to information in existence when the request was made. Because the department does not have the requested information, the department need not create any new documents to respond to the open records request.
We now consider whether the requested information is excepted from disclosure pursuant section 552.103. Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) applies. To show that section 552.103 is applicable, the department must demonstrate that 1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated and 2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479 (Tex. App. -- Austin, 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210, 212 (Tex. App.-- Houston[1st Dist] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 588 (1991).
Section 552.103 requires concrete evidence that litigation may ensue. To demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated, the department must furnish evidence that litigation is realistically contemplated and is more than mere conjecture. Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989). A governmental body may establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated by showing that 1) it has received a claim letter from an allegedly injured party or his attorney and 2) the governmental body states that the letter complies with the notice of claim provisions of the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) or applicable municipal statute or ordinance. Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996).
You have submitted a notice of claim letter from an attorney representing the opposing parties. The attorney gives notice that he is pursuing a claim of liability and damages for injuries sustained by the opposing parties against the department. You state that the notice of claim letter complies with the notice requirements of the TTCA. We conclude that the department reasonably anticipates litigation, and that the documents submitted relate to the anticipated litigation. Thus, you may withhold the requested information from disclosure pursuant to section 552.103(a).
Generally, however, once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation through discovery or otherwise, there is no section 552.103(a) interest in withholding that information from the requestor. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). In addition, the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation concludes. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982). In light of our conclusion under section 552.103(a), we need not address the applicability of other exceptions.
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.
Noelle C. Letteri
Ref: ID# 132292
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Ana E. Estevez
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US