|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 22, 2000
Ms. Judith A. Hunter
Dear Ms. Hunter:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 132427.
The City of Georgetown (the "city") received a request for the personnel file of a police officer including all evaluations, reprimands, complaints, commendations, and awards. You state that you will make a portion of the records available to the requestor. You claim that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.102, 552.108, 552.110, 552.117, and 552.119 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.(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. Information may 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 Open Records Decision No. 455 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), 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).
Exhibits B and C contain the employee's insurance enrollment forms for life, health, vision, and dental insurance. Prior decisions of this office have found that financial information relating 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. 545 (1990), 373 (1983). 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 No. 545 (deferred compensation plan). Information revealing that an employee participates in a group insurance plan funded partly or wholly by the governmental body is not excepted from disclosure. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 10 (1992). For example, this office has held that an employee's participation in the Texas Municipal Retirement System or in a group insurance plan funded by the governmental body is not excepted from disclosure under common law privacy. Id.; Open Records Decision No. 480 (1987).
However, the employee's optional coverages will generally be funded by the employee and not the state. An employee's decision to enroll for optional coverages is a personal financial decision to allocate part of his compensation to optional benefits, and, therefore, the related information is excepted from disclosure by a right of privacy. Having reviewed the insurance forms, it appears that the employee's life insurance and dental insurance are voluntary coverages which are excepted from disclosure under section 552.101. Further, we believe that the benefits enrollment form reveals the employee's decision to enroll in optional coverages and is excepted by common law privacy. However, we assume that the HMO enrollment forms involve a transaction between the employee and the city and, therefore, are not protected under common law privacy. We have marked the information that we believe must be withheld under section 552.101. However, if the city partly funds the employee's insurance, the information is not protected under common law privacy and may not be withheld on that basis. Therefore, we would caution you to evaluate the data carefully before releasing or withholding it. See Gov't Code § 552.352. We note that the designation of a retirement beneficiary is protected from disclosure under section 552.101. Open Records Decision No. 600 (1992).
Exhibit B contains a document revealing the results of drug testing. This office has long recognized a privacy interest in the drug test results of public employees. See Open Records Decision Nos. 594 (1991) (suggesting identification of individual as having tested positive for use of illegal drug may raise privacy issues), 455 at 5 (1987) (citing Shoemaker v. Handel, 619 F. Supp. 1089 (D.N.J. 1985), aff'd, 795 F.2d. 1136 (3rd Cir. 1986)). Consequently, you must withhold these test results under common law privacy. However, we do not believe that the chain of custody/consent form for drug testing in Exhibit B is protected under section 552.101.
Exhibit C contains the employee's financial obligations which do not involve a financial transaction between an employee and the city and thus is subject to protection under the right of privacy. Exhibit C also contains documents pertaining to the employee's receipt of a city issued credit card. Although we do not believe that these documents are protected under the right of privacy in their entirety, the credit card number should be withheld under section 552.101.
You assert that health records submitted as Exhibit B are protected from disclosure. Along with the right of privacy, section 552.101 also encompasses information protected by statute. Section 159.002(b) of the Occupations Code provides the following:
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.
We have marked the documents in Exhibit B which constitute records of the diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician and, therefore, are confidential under section 159.002(b) of the Occupations Code. Thus, the medical records must be withheld under section 552.101.
The submitted information also 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 documents contain a polygraph examination report. Polygraph results are confidential under section 1703.306 of the Occupations Code and must be withheld.
Further, the submitted information contains declarations of psychological and emotional health and medical condition 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 is subject to section 1701.306 of the Occupations Code and must be withheld.
You also assert that information is protected by section 552.117(2). 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).
We note that the submitted information contains driver's license numbers and the employee's driving record. 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.
Exhibit F contains documents relating to an internal affairs investigation into an allegation of indecency with a child involving the employee. You assert that section 552.108 protects the disclosure of Exhibit F because the investigation is being taken before the grand jury and the investigation is still pending. Section 552.108(a)(1) excepts from disclosure information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime if release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. You state that the requested information relates to a pending criminal investigation. Accordingly, we find that release of Exhibit F would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. See Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976) (court delineates law enforcement interests that are present in active cases). Therefore, we conclude that the city may withhold Exhibit F under section 552.108(a)(1).
However, section 552.108 is inapplicable to basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime. Gov't Code § 552.108(c). We believe such basic information refers to the information held to be public in Houston Chronicle. 531 S.W.2d at 177. However, you also assert that section 552.101 protects the identity of the juvenile sexual assault victim. Any information tending to identify sexual assault victims should be withheld pursuant to common law privacy. See Open Records Decision No. 393 (1983). Thus, you must withhold the identity of the sexual assault victim but release the remaining basic information. Except for the exceptions discussed, you must release the remaining information.
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.
Ref: ID# 132427
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Mr. David Hafetz
1. We note that section 552.301(e)(2) requires the governmental body to label the copy of the submitted documents to indicate which exceptions apply to the information. However, marking the information in black marker obscures the information. In the future, please use another method, such as a highlighter, brackets or tabs to label the excepted information.
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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