|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 7, 2000
Mr. Ron G. MacFarlane, Jr.
Dear Mr. MacFarlane:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 131983.
The Cedar Hill Police Department (the "department") received a request for department policies, procedures, and information relating to the employment and training of two police officers. You assert that you have produced information regarding department policies, procedures, and training. You claim that documents in the personnel files are excepted from disclosure under section 552.102 of the Government Code. You also assert that information pertaining to training and testing results, is excepted from disclosure under section 552.122 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information from the personnel files and the representative sample of the training and testing results.(1)
Section 552.102 excepts from disclosure "information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Gov't Code § 552.102(a). In Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Texas Newspapers, 652 S.W.2d 546 (Tex. App.- Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.), the court ruled that the test to be applied to information claimed to be protected under section 552.102 is the same as the test formulated by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation for information claimed to be protected under the doctrine of common law privacy as incorporated by section 552.101 of the act. Industrial
Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Therefore, we will address whether section 552.101 applies to the requested information.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 552.101 encompasses common law and constitutional privacy. Common law privacy excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. Id. Therefore, information must be withheld from the public when (1) it is highly intimate and embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) there is no legitimate public interest in its disclosure. Id. at 685; Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992).
The constitutional right to privacy protects two interests. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 4 (1992) (citing Ramie v. City of Hedwig Village, 765 F.2d 490 (5th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1062 (1986)). The first is the interest in independence in making certain important decisions related to the "zones of privacy" recognized by the United States Supreme Court. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 4 (1992). The zones of privacy recognized by the United States Supreme Court are matters pertaining to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education. See id.
The second interest is the interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. The test for whether information may be publicly disclosed without violating constitutional privacy rights involves a balancing of the individual's privacy interests against the public's need to know information of public concern. See Open Records Decision No. 455 at 5-7 (1987) (citing Fadjo v. Coon, 633 F.2d 1172, 1176 (5th Cir. 1981)). The scope of information considered private under the constitutional doctrine is far narrower than that under the common law; the material must concern the "most intimate aspects of human affairs." See id. at 5 (1987) (citing Ramie v. City of Hedwig Village, 765 F.2d 490, 492 (5th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1062 (1986)).
This office has found that the following types of information are excepted from required public disclosure under constitutional or common law privacy: some kinds of medical information or information indicating disabilities or specific illnesses, see Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (illness from severe emotional and job-related stress), 455 (1987) (prescription drugs, illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps), and personal financial information not relating to the financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body, see Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992), 545 (1990), and information concerning the intimate relations between individuals and their family members, see Open Records Decision No. 470 (1987). After reviewing the submitted information, we have found some medical questions which inquire about certain illnesses and operations to be protected by privacy. We have marked the medical information which must be withheld under section 552.101.
Upon review, we have found that some of the submitted information contains financial information. Prior decisions of this office have found that financial information relating only to an individual ordinarily satisfies the first requirement of the test for common law privacy, but that there is a legitimate public interest in the essential facts about a financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body. Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992), 545 (1990), 373 (1983). Thus, a public employee's allocation of his salary to a voluntary investment program offered by his employer is a personal investment decision, and information about it is excepted from disclosure by a common law right of privacy. Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992) (TexFlex benefits), 545 (1992) (deferred compensation plan). However, where a transaction is funded in part by the state, it involves the employee in a transaction with the state and is not protected by privacy. Open Records Decision No. 600 (1992). Some of the information at issue appears to involve a financial transaction between an individual and the governmental body, e.g., the employees' health insurance premiums; therefore, such information is not subject to an exception under common law privacy. However, the submitted information contains personal financial information, such as personal financial obligations and credit reports, which does not involve a financial transaction between an employee and the department and thus is subject to protection under the right of privacy. We have marked the personal financial information which must be withheld under sections 552.101 and 552.102. The remaining submitted information is not protected by the right of privacy and may not be withheld on that basis. See Open Records Decision Nos. 484 (1987) (public's interest in knowing how police departments resolve complaints against police officer ordinarily outweighs officer's privacy interest), 470 (1987) (public employee's job performance does not generally constitute his private affairs), 455 (1987) (public employee's job performances or abilities generally not protected by privacy), 444 (1986) (public has legitimate interest in knowing reasons for dismissal, demotion, promotion, or resignation of public employees).
Section 552.101 also excepts from disclosure information protected by other statutes. The submitted information includes criminal history record information ("CHRI"). Criminal history record information generated by the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC") or by the Texas Crime Information Center ("TCIC") is confidential. Title 28, part 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations governs the release of CHRI that states obtain from the federal government or other states. Open Records Decision No. 565 (1990). The federal regulations allow each state to follow its individual law with respect to CHRI it generates. Id. Section 411.083 of the Government Code deems confidential CHRI that the Department of Public Safety ("DPS") maintains, except that the DPS may disseminate this information as provided in chapter 411, subchapter F of the Government Code. See Gov't Code § 411.083.
Sections 411.083(b)(1) and 411.089(a) authorize a criminal justice agency to obtain CHRI; however, a criminal justice agency may not release CHRI except to another criminal justice agency for a criminal justice purpose. Id. § 411.089(b)(1). Other entities specified in chapter 411 of the Government Code are entitled to obtain CHRI from DPS or another criminal justice agency; however, those entities may not release CHRI except as provided by chapter 411. See generally id. §§ 411.090 - .127. Thus, any CHRI generated by the federal government or another state may not be made available to the requestor except in accordance with federal regulations. See Open Records Decision No. 565 (1990). Furthermore, any CHRI obtained from DPS or any other criminal justice agency must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with Government Code chapter 411, subchapter F. We have marked the CHRI which must be withheld.
The submitted information also contains W-4 forms. Title 26 section 6103(a) of the United States Code renders tax return information confidential. The term "return information" includes "the nature, source, or amount of income" of a taxpayer. 26 U.S.C. 6103(b)(2). This term has been interpreted by federal courts to include any information gathered by the Internal Revenue Service regarding a taxpayer's liability under title 26 of the United States Code. Mallas v. Kolak, 721 F. Supp 748 (M.D.N.C. 1989). Our office has specifically held that W-4 Forms must be withheld in their entirety. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 9 (1992). Therefore, you must withhold the submitted W-4 Forms.
Release of eligibility verification form I-9 is governed by title 8, section 1324a of the United States Code. This statute provides that I-9 forms "may not be used for purposes other than for enforcement of [the immigration laws of] this chapter" and for enforcement of other federal statutes governing crime and criminal investigations. 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b)(5); see 8 C.F.R. § 274a.2(b)(4). Release of this document under chapter 552 of the Government Code would not be for a permitted purpose and, therefore, we conclude that the I-9 forms are confidential and must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
The submitted information contains a drug dependency report, medical evaluation, and declaration of psychological and emotional health from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. Section 1701.306 of the Occupations Code provides as follows:(2)
(a) The commission may not issue a license to a person as an officer or county jailer unless the person is examined by:
(1) a licensed psychologist or by a psychiatrist who declares in writing that the person is in satisfactory psychological and emotional health to serve as the type of officer for which a license is sought; and
(2) a licensed physician who declares in writing that the person does not show any trace of drug dependency or illegal drug use after a physical examination, blood test, or other medical test.
(b) An agency hiring a person for whom a license as an officer or county jailer is sought shall select the examining physician and the examining psychologist or psychiatrist. The agency shall prepare a report of each declaration required by Subsection (a) and shall maintain a copy of the report on file in a format readily accessible to the commission. A declaration is not public information.
We have marked the information that must not be released pursuant to section 1701.306 of the Occupations Code.
We note that some of the submitted information must be withheld under section 552.117(2) of the Government Code. Section 552.117(2) excepts from public disclosure a peace officer's home address, home telephone number, social security number, and information indicating whether the peace officer has family members. We have marked the information which you must withhold under section 552.117(2) of the Government Code. Further, section 552.119(a), with exceptions that have not been shown to apply here, prohibits the release of photographs that depict peace officers. Thus, you must withhold photographs of peace officers under section 552.119(a) unless the peace officer has given written consent to the disclosure of the photograph. Gov't Code § 552.119(b).
The submitted information also contains driver's license numbers, license plates, and VIN numbers. Section 552.130(a) of the Government Code excepts from disclosure information that relates to a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state or a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state. We have marked the information that you must withhold under section 552.130(a) of the Government Code.
You also assert that a portion of the submitted documents are excepted from disclosure under section 552.122(b) of the Government Code. Section 552.122(b) excepts from disclosure test items developed by a licensing agency or governmental body. In Open Records Decision No. 626 (1994), this office determined that the term "test item" in section 552.122 includes any standard means by which the knowledge or ability of an individual or group in a particular area is evaluated, but does not encompass evaluations of an employee's overall job performance or suitability. Whether information falls within the section 552.122 exception must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 626 at 6 (1994). Traditionally, this office has applied section 552.122 where release of "test items" might compromise the effectiveness of future examinations. Id. at 4-5; see also Open Records Decision No. 118 (1976).
In this instance, you seek to withhold documents from an officer's training and testing file. The file includes documents containing questions and answers concerning police procedures, daily observation reports, and an introduction to the field training program. Having reviewed the documents, we find that the questions and answers concerning police procedures constitute standard means by which the knowledge or ability of an individual or group in a particular area is evaluated. We have marked these questions and answers as "test items" which may be withheld under section 552.122(b). However, we find that the daily observation reports merely evaluate an employee's overall job performance or suitability and therefore do not constitute "test items." Further, the field training program which provides information concerning the training program does not constitute a test item. The recruit training guide, which contains lists of tasks to be performed by the recruit, does not evaluate an individual's knowledge in a particular area but rather documents the performance of each task. Thus, the recruit training guide does not constitute a "test item." With the exception of the questions and answers, you may not withhold the submitted information under section 552.122(b).
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# 131983
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Mr. David L. Dickerson
1. In reaching our conclusion here, we assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach, and therefore does not authorize the withholding of, any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.
2. The Seventy-sixth legislature enacted section 1701.306 of the Occupations Code and repealed section 415.057 of the Government Code without substantive change.
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