|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
April 14, 2000
Ms. J. Middlebrooks
Dear Ms. Middlebrooks:
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# 134559.
The Dallas Police Department (the "department") received a request for information relating to cases and action taken against the owners of a particular commercial establishment at a specified address, including agreements, documents, and records generated in connection with any investigation by the Safe Team. You advise this office that "[a]ll public information will be released to the requestor." You claim that information pertaining to a confidential informant is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.
Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from public disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." The Texas courts have recognized the common law informer's privilege. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969). The informer's privilege protects the identity of a person who reports 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. See Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 3 (1988), 208 at 1-2 (1978). Thus, the privilege protects the identities of individuals who report violations of the law to law enforcement agencies and of individuals who report violations of statutes or ordinances involving potential 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 involve an alleged violation of a statute or ordinance that provides for the imposition of a civil or criminal penalty. See Open Records Decision Nos. 582 at 2 (1990), 515 at 4-5 (1988), 355 at 1 (1982). Further, the privilege excepts the informer's statement only to the extent necessary to protect the informer's identity. See Open Records Decision No. 549 at 5 (1990).
You state that the department seeks to protect the identity of an individual who reported city code violations at the location specified by the requestor. You assert that public disclosure of the individual's identity would interfere with the detection and investigation of crime by discouraging witnesses from reporting possible criminal violations to the department. Based on your representations and our review of the submitted information, we agree that the identifying information that the department has marked may be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the common law informer's privilege. The balance of the submitted information is not protected from public disclosure and must be released.
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# 134559
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Donna Ressl