|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
June 29, 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# 136670.
The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (the "commissioner") received a request for complaints regarding a specified business including any correspondence relating to the business and any finance company which may have been involved in any transactions. You assert that you will provide the requestor with some of the requested documents. You claim that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.110 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative samples of information.(1)
You assert that the redacted personal financial information in Exhibits B-R, C-R, D-R, E-R, and F-R is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code.(2) 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. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 683-85 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The doctrine of common law privacy protects information that contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the information must be of no legitimate concern to the public. Id.
In Open Records Decision No. 373 (1983), this office addressed the availability of personal financial information submitted to a city by an applicant for a housing rehabilitation grant. In that decision, this office concluded:
all financial information relating to an individual -- including sources of income, salary, mortgage payments, assets, medical and utility bills, social security and veterans benefits, retirement and state assistance benefits, and credit history -- 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. Although information regarding a financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body is a matter of legitimate public interest, common law privacy protects personal financial information not relating to the financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body. See Open Records Decision No. 545 (1990).
You have redacted the financing terms, including the amounts and duration, that consumers have agreed to pay the specified company. After reviewing the information, we conclude that this type of personal financial information is highly intimate or embarrassing and not a matter of legitimate public interest. Therefore, we conclude that the commissioner must withhold the redacted information from disclosure pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code and common law privacy.(3)
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# 136670
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Ed Walton
1. In reaching our conclusion here, we assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach, and therefore does not authorize the withholding of, any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.
2. We note that you have also provided copies of the submitted information without the redactions as Exhibits B, C, D, E, and F.
3. Because we have found the redacted information to be protected under section 552.101, we need not address the applicability of section 552.110.