|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
May 23, 2000
Mr. Charles M. Allen, II
Dear Mr. Allen:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code, the Public Information Act (the "Act"). Your request was assigned ID# 135501.
The City of Richardson Police Department (the "department") received a request for personnel records of four identified former or current department employees. You claim that the personal financial information regarding the city's deferred compensation plan, flexplan programs and retirement in the individual's personnel files is protected from disclosure by a common law right to privacy. Consequently, you redacted this information prior to releasing to the requestor copies of each individual's personnel record.(1) You ask that this office issue a ruling as to whether the personal financial information must be produced.
Section 552.101 excepts "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This exception applies to information made confidential by the common law right to privacy. Industrial Foundation v. Texas Industrial Accident Board, 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Information may be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with the common law right to privacy if the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that release of the information would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and if the information is of no legitimate concern to the public. Id. 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.
Financial information concerning an individual is in some cases protected by a common law right of privacy. Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992) (information about public employee's participation in a group insurance program, retirement benefits beneficiaries, tax exempt reimbursement accounts, and direct deposit), 545 (1990) (information about a public employee's participation in a deferred compensation plan). A previous opinion of this office states that "all financial information relating to an individual . . . ordinarily satisfies the first requirement of common law privacy, in that it constitutes highly intimate or embarrassing facts about the individual, such that its public disclosure would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities." Open Records Decision No. 373 at 3 (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). On the other hand, this office has held that an employee's participation in the Texas Municipal Retirement System is not excepted from disclosure under common law privacy. Open Records Decision Nos. 600 at 10 (1992), 480 (1987). However, the beneficiary and financial information regarding an employee's retirement benefits are excepted from disclosure by a common law right of privacy. Id. We therefore conclude that as no legitimate public interest exists in the employees' participation in the city's deferred compensation plan, and flexplan programs, you must withhold the forms in their entirety under section 552.101 as confidential under the common law right to privacy. In addition, the department must withhold from disclosure the beneficiary and financial information pertaining to the employee's retirement benefits. Also, based on section 552.101 in conjunction with the common law right to privacy, we have marked the retirement information you must not release to the requestor.
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# 135501
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Scottie Pabin
1. We note that, prior to their release to the requestor, the department also redacted from the personnel records, the social security number, home address, driver license number information and photos of the peace officers presumably in accordance with sections 552.117, 552.130 and 552.119, which are mandatory exceptions under the Act.
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