|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 15, 2000
Ms. Kristi DeCluitt
Dear Ms. DeCluitt:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 132588.
The City of College Station (the "city") received a request for information pertaining to a specific zoning dispute. You claim that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, and 552.111 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
We begin by addressing the documents you submitted as Exhibit A. You claim that portions of Exhibit A are confidential under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 159.002 of the Occupations Code, known as the Medical Practices Act ("MPA").(1) Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Accordingly, section 552.101 encompasses confidentiality provisions such as the MPA. The MPA provides in relevant part:
(b) A record of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician that is created or maintained by a physician is confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
(c) A person who receives information from a confidential communication or record as described by this chapter . . . may not disclose the information except to the extent that disclosure is consistent with the authorized purposes for which the information was first obtained.
Occ. Code § 159.002 (b), (c). The MPA requires that any subsequent release of medical records be consistent with the purposes for which a governmental body obtained the records. Open Records Decision No. 565 at 7 (1990).(2) Thus, the MPA governs access to medical records. Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). Moreover, information that is subject to the MPA includes both medical records and information obtained directly from those medical records. See Occ. Code § 159.002 (a), (b), (c); Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). The only medical record contained in Exhibit A is a letter from a physician which describes and evaluates the medical condition of his patient. The city may release this letter only in accordance with the MPA as encompassed by section 552.101.(3) None of the remaining information in Exhibit A constitutes a medical record or information obtained from medical records. Therefore, with the exception of the physician's letter, the city must release Exhibit A to the requestor.
Next, we consider the documents submitted as Exhibits C and D. You claim that all of the information in both exhibits is excepted under sections 552.107 and 552.111 of the Government Code. Section 552.107(1) of the Government Code 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. We agree that the entire legal memorandum submitted as Exhibit C and most of the handwritten notes submitted as part of Exhibit D reveal communications from the city's attorney to the city in which the attorney renders legal advice. Therefore, the city may withhold Exhibit C and the marked portion of Exhibit D under section 552.107(1). However, a portion of Exhibit D merely reveals facts conveyed in a conversation between the city's attorney and the opposing party's attorney. As this portion reveals neither client confidences nor the city attorney's legal advice, it does not fall under section 552.107(1) and must be released.(4)
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# 132588
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Andy Gillies
1. The Seventy-sixth Legislature repealed article 4495b of Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes. See Act of May 13, 1999, 76th Leg., R.S., ch. 388, § 6, 1999 Tex. Sess. Laws 1431, 2439 (Vernon) (adopting Occupations Code). The former article 4495b of Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes now is codified as the Medical Practice Act at subtitle B of title 3 of the Occupations Code, and the former section 5.08 of article 4495b is codified at chapter 159 of the Occupations Code.
2. Inasmuch as the Seventy-sixth Legislature intended no substantive change in the law in codifying the Medical Practice Act at subtitle B of title 3 of the Occupations Code, open records decisions interpreting the former section 5.08 of article 4495b of Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes retain their relevance. See Act of May 13, 1999, 76th Leg., R.S., ch. 388, § 7, 1999 Tex. Gen. Laws 1431, 2440.
3. See Occ. Code §§ 159.004(5), 159.005(1) (providing that otherwise confidential medical information may be released to a person who bears a written consent of the patient, subject to certain requirements).
4. As section 552.107(1) is dispositive in regard to Exhibits C and D, we do not address your argument regarding section 552.111 except to note that section 552.111 does not apply to purely factual information that is severable from the opinion portions of internal memoranda. Open Records Decision No. 615 at 4-5 (1990).
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US