|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
June 7, 2000
Ms. Katherine Minter Cary
Dear Ms. Cary:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 136426.
The Office of the Attorney General (the "attorney general") received a request for any and all records maintained by the state of Texas relating to a specific traffic collision. You have released some of the requested information. You claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, 552.107, and 552.111 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) is applicable in a particular situation. In order to meet this burden, the governmental body must show that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. 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, 212 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). Section 552.103 requires concrete evidence that litigation may ensue. To demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated, the attorney general must furnish evidence that litigation is realistically contemplated and is more than mere conjecture. Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). A governmental body may establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated by showing that 1) it has received a claim letter from an allegedly injured party or his attorney and 2) the governmental body states that the letter complies with the notice of claim provisions of the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA") or applicable municipal statute or ordinance. Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996).
You assert that the attorney general received a letter from the attorney representing the financial institution that has a perfected security interest in the complainant's vehicle that was damaged in the collision. You state that the financial institution is the assignee of a retail installment contract on the complainant's vehicle. You assert that the financial institution is demanding that the attorney general fix the damaged vehicle. You represent that the letter satisfies the notice requirements of the TTCA. Therefore, you have established that litigation is reasonably anticipated. After reviewing the submitted documents, we conclude that the information relates to the litigation. Consequently, the attorney general may withhold the requested information from public disclosure under section 552.103.
We note, however, once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Furthermore, the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has been concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).
Because we were able to make a determination under section 552.103 of the Government Code, we need not address the other exceptions you have claimed. 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.
Noelle C. Letteri
Ref: ID# 136426
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Donald L. Turbyfill
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US