|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
April 14, 2000
Mr. John Steiner
Dear Mr. Steiner:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134401.
The City of Austin (the "city") received a request for information relating to the requestor's upcoming court appearance. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.(1)
As amended by the Seventy-sixth Legislature, section 552.103, the "litigation exception," provides in relevant part:
(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person's office or employment, is or may be a party.
. . . .
(c) Information relating to litigation involving a governmental body or an officer or employee of a governmental body is excepted from disclosure under Subsection (a) only if the litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the requestor applies to the officer for public information for access to or duplication of the information.
Gov't Code § 552.103(a), (c). To sustain a claim under section 552.103, the governmental body must demonstrate: (1) that litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated and (2) that the requested information is related to that litigation. See 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 (Tex. App. - Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 588 (1991). Both prongs of the test must be met in order for information to be excepted from disclosure under section 552.103. See Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). You assert, and in this instance the request for information confirms, that the requested information relates to a case that was pending in municipal court on the day that the city received the request.(2) We therefore conclude that the city may withhold the requested information from public disclosure pursuant to section 552.103 of the Government Code.
Our ruling assumes that the requestor has not seen or had access to any of the information that the city seeks to withhold. If the opposing party to the related litigation has seen or had access to any of the information in question, then there is no interest in withholding that information from public disclosure under section 552.103. See Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). In addition, the applicability of section 552.103 ends once the litigation concludes. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982). Any information that is confidential by law must not be released, however, even at the conclusion of the litigation.
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.
James W. Morris, III
Ref: ID# 134401
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Robert Torres
1. We assume that the sample of responsive information that you submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested information as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This letter ruling does not address, and therefore does not authorize the city to withhold, any other requested information that is substantially different from the information that you submitted.
2. A governmental body that raises a claim of pending litigation under section 552.103 is expected to specifically explain or describe how the requested information relates to the litigation and submit supporting documentation, such as a pleading. See Gov't Code § 552.301(e)(1)(A); Open Records Decision No. 638 at 4 (1990). The city should do so even when it is satisfied, as you are here, that "[t]he subject matter relatedness of the request and the pending litigation is self-evident[.]"