|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 14, 2000
Ms. Lillian Guillen Graham
Dear Ms. Graham:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 132235.
The City of Mesquite (the "city") received a request for records of all police calls made to the requestor's home address. You state that the city believes that most of the requested information is public. However, you claim that all or part of two specific incident reports are excepted under sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
First, we address your argument concerning section 552.103 of the Government Code. Section 552.103(a) excepts from required public 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) is applicable in a particular situation. In order to meet this burden, the governmental body must show that (1) litigation has been pending or reasonably anticipated at least since the time of the request, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. Gov't Code § 552.103; 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. 551 at 4 (1990). The city must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103.
You merely state that all of the information at issue is excepted under section 552.103 because "it all relates to potential litigation of a criminal nature." However, you have not explained why or to what extent there is a potential for litigation. Therefore, we find that you have not met your burden of showing that litigation is either pending or reasonably anticipated. Accordingly, the city may not withhold any of the information at issue under section 552.103.
Next, we turn to your arguments regarding sections 552.101 and 552.108. Your arguments for these exceptions are essentially identical in that they both contend that the identity of the complainant in the two incident reports should be withheld under the informant's privilege. The "informer's privilege," incorporated into the Public Information Act by section 552.101,(1) has long been recognized by Texas courts. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969); Hawthorne v. State, 10 S.W.2d 724, 725 (Tex. Crim. App. 1928). It protects from disclosure the identities of persons who report activities over which the governmental body has criminal or quasi-criminal law enforcement authority, provided that the subject of the information does not already know the informer's identity. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 3 (1988), 208 at 1-2 (1978). The informer's privilege protects the identities of individuals who report violations of statutes to the police or similar law enforcement agencies, as well as those who report violations of statutes with civil or criminal penalties to "administrative officials having a duty of inspection or of law enforcement within their particular spheres." Open Records Decision No. 279 at 2 (1981) (citing Wigmore, Evidence, § 2374, at 767 (McNaughton rev. ed. 1961)). The report must be of a violation of a criminal or civil statute. See Open Records Decision Nos. 582 at 2 (1990), 515 at 4-5 (1988).
However, the informer's privilege does not categorically protect from release the identification and description of a complainant that appears on an incident report, because such front page offense report information is generally considered public under Houston Chronicle. See Gov't Code § 552.108(c); Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177, 187 (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). The identity of a complainant that appears on an incident report, regardless of whether the complainant is an "informant," may only be withheld upon a showing that special circumstances exist.
In this case, the information you wish to withhold identifies the complainant on two call sheets that correspond with two incident reports. Therefore, the information at issue is "front page" information that can be released only if a special situation is shown.
We have addressed several special situations in which front page offense report information may be withheld from disclosure. For example, in Open Records Decision No. 366 (1983), this office agreed that the statutory predecessor to section 552.108 protected from disclosure information about an ongoing undercover narcotics operation, even though some of the information at issue was front page information contained in an arrest report. The police department explained how release of certain details would interfere with the undercover operation, which was ongoing and was expected to culminate in more arrests. Open Records Decision No. 366 (1983); see Open Records Decision No. 333 (1982) at 2; cf. Open Records Decision Nos. 393 (1983) (identifying information concerning victims of sexual assault), 339 (1982), 169 (1977) at 6-7, 123 (1976).
Based upon the information provided to this office, we do not believe that you have shown special circumstances sufficient to overcome the presumption of public access to the complainant's identity. Consequently, we conclude that the city must release the reports at issue, including information that identifies the complainant.(2)
However, the phone number of the complainant that appears on report number 99106881 may be confidential under Section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with Chapter 772 of the Health and Safety Code. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision. This section encompasses information protected by other confidentiality provisions such as those found in Chapter 772 of the Health and Safety Code. Sections 772.118, 772.218 and 772.318 of the Health and Safety Code make confidential the originating telephone numbers and addresses of 911 callers furnished by a service supplier. See Open Records Decision No. 649 (1996). These provisions may apply to an emergency 911 district that was established in accordance with chapter 772 of the Health and Safety Code, which authorizes the development of local emergency communications districts. Section 772.118 applies to emergency communication districts for counties with a population over two million. Section 772.218 applies to emergency communication districts for counties with a population over 860,000. Section 772.318 applies to emergency communication districts for counties with a population over 20,000. Subchapter E, which applies to counties with populations over 1.5 million, does not contain a confidentiality provision regarding 911 telephone numbers and addresses. Health & Safety Code §§772.401 et seq. Thus, if the city is or is part of an emergency communication district that is subject to section 772.118, 772.218 or 772.318, the complainant's telephone number that appears on report number 99106881 is excepted from public disclosure based on section 552.101 as information deemed confidential by statute.
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# 132235
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Jerry Pinney
1. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision."
2. As we interpret your argument under section 552.108 to essentially raise the informer's privilege, we believe that our discussion of the informer's privilege is dispositive of this matter and that it is unnecessary to address section 552.108 specifically.
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