|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
May 22, 2000
Ms. Doreen L. Wheeler
Dear Ms. Wheeler:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135489.
The Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner (the "commissioner") received a request for complaints received pertaining to Palm Harbor Village. You have already released information that is responsive to the request. You claim that portions of the remaining information are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.110 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.
Pursuant to section 552.301(e), a governmental body is required to submit to this office within fifteen business days of receiving an open records request (1) general written comments stating the reasons why the stated exceptions apply that would allow the information to be withheld, (2) a copy of the written request for information, (3) a signed statement or sufficient evidence showing the date the governmental body received the written request, and (4) a copy of the specific information requested or representative samples, labeled to indicate which exceptions apply to which parts of the documents. Gov't Code § 552.301(e).
You state that the commission received the request for information on March 6, 2000. You did not, however, submit to this office copies or representative samples of the specific information that was requested until March 27, 2000, more than fifteen days after the date the commissioner received the request. Consequently, you have not met your statutory burden under section 552.301(e) of the Government Code.
Pursuant to section 552.302 of the Government Code, a governmental body's failure to submit to this office the information required in section 552.301(e) results in the legal presumption that the information is public and must be released. Information that is presumed public must be released unless a governmental body demonstrates a compelling reason to withhold the information to overcome this presumption. See Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381-82 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ) (governmental body must make compelling demonstration to overcome presumption of openness pursuant to statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.302); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). You assert that portions of the information are excepted from disclosure pursuant to sections 552.101 of the Government Code. The applicability of section 552.101 provides a compelling reason sufficient to overcome the presumption that the information is public.
Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision," including information protected by the common law right of privacy. The doctrine of common law privacy protects information if it is highly intimate or embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the public has no legitimate interest in it. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). This office has determined that some personal financial information is highly intimate or embarrassing and thus meets the first part of the Industrial Foundation test. Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992) (personal financial choices concerning insurance are generally confidential), 545 (1990) (common law privacy protects personal financial information not relating to the financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body), 523 (1989) (common law privacy protects credit reports, financial statements, and other personal financial information), 373 (1983) (common law privacy protects assets and income source information). We agree that the information you have redacted consists of private financial information which must be withheld from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the common law right to privacy. The remaining information must be released to the requestor. Since section 552.101 is dispositive of the information at issue, we do not address your claim under section 552.110 of the Government Code.
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.
Carla Gay Dickson
Ref: ID# 135489
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Belinda Hinojosa-Persohn
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US