|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
July 6, 2000
Ms. Stephanie A. Osburn
Dear Ms. Osburn:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 137643.
The City of El Paso (the "city") received a request for any and all records specifically pertaining to the police department's internal affairs investigation #IA99-281. You state that you have released the first page of the incident report, "preliminary information documents" from the internal affairs investigation, and two press releases concerning the incident. You claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information pertaining to the criminal case and representative samples of the internal affairs investigation and medical records.(1)
You assert that portions of the criminal investigation and internal affairs investigation, submitted as Exhibits C and D, are excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with section 58.007(c) of the Family Code. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by statutes such as section 58.007(c). Juvenile law enforcement records relating to conduct that occurred on or after September 1, 1997 are confidential under section 58.007. The relevant language of section 58.007(c) reads as follows:
(c) Except as provided by Subsection (d), law enforcement records and files concerning a child and information stored, by electronic means or otherwise, concerning the child from which a record or file could be generated may not be disclosed to the public and shall be:
(1) if maintained on paper or microfilm, kept separate from adult files and records;
(2) if maintained electronically in the same computer system as records or files relating to adults, be accessible under controls that are separate and distinct from controls to access electronic data concerning adults; and
(3) maintained on a local basis only and not sent to a central state or federal depository, except as provided by Subchapter B.
We agree that portions of Exhibit C involve juvenile conduct that occurred after September 1, 1997. It does not appear that any of the exceptions in section 58.007 apply; therefore, marked portions of Exhibit C are confidential pursuant to section 58.007(c) of the Family Code. You must withhold the marked information from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
You also assert that Exhibits C and D are excepted from disclosure under section 552.103. Section 552.103(a) provides as follows:
(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person's office or employment, is or may be a party.
A governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show the applicability of an exception in a particular situation. The test for establishing that section 552.103(a) applies is a two-prong showing 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 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 588 (1991). Further, litigation must be pending or reasonably anticipated on the date the requestor applies to the public information officer for access. Gov't Code § 552.103(c).
To establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated, a governmental body must provide this office "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture." Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). In Open Records Decision No. 638 at 5 (1996), this office determined that a governmental body establishes that litigation is reasonably anticipated when it receives a notice of claim from an attorney and represents to this office that the notice complies with the Texas Tort Claims Act, chapter 101 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, or any applicable city statutes or ordinances.
You have received two letters from attorneys claiming damages against the city in connection with the incident which is the subject of the internal affairs investigation. You represent that the two letters are in compliance with the notice requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act. Therefore, we conclude that you have demonstrated that litigation is reasonably anticipated and that the submitted information relates to the anticipated litigation. Thus, you may withhold the remaining portions of Exhibit C and Exhibit D under section 552.103.(2)
We note that if the opposing party in the litigation has seen or had access to any of the information in these records, there is no section 552.103(a) interest in withholding that information from the requestor. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Further, section 552.103 does not authorize the withholding of information which has already been made available to the public. Open Records Decision No. 436 (1986). We note that the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation concludes. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982), Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982). However, if the records contain information that is confidential by law, you must not release such information even at the conclusion of the litigation. Gov't Code §§ 552.101, .352.
Further, you assert that Exhibit E, which contains medical records, is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 and the Medical Practice Act ("MPA"). The MPA, section 159.002(b) of the Occupations Code, provides the following:
A record of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a
physician that is created or maintained by a physician is confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
Thus, access to medical records is governed by provisions outside the Public Information Act. See Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). The MPA provides for both confidentiality of medical records and certain statutory access requirements. Occ. Code §§ 159.002, .003. Medical records may be released only in accordance with the MPA. Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). Therefore, you must withhold the medical records in Exhibit E.
In summary, you must withhold the marked portions of Exhibit C under section 58.007 of the Family Code in conjunction with section 552.101 of the Government Code. You may withhold the remainder of Exhibit C and Exhibit D under section 552.103 and Exhibit E under section 552.101 and the MPA.
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# 137643
Encl: Marked documents
cc: Officer Tom Barbee
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. Because you may withhold Exhibits C and D under section 552.103, we need not address the applicability of section 552.108. We note that you state that you have released a copy of the incident report which we assume fulfills the requirement of releasing basic information as required by section 552.108 and Houston Chronicle Publishing Company v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex.1976). We note that basic information may not be withheld from public disclosure under section 552.103. Open Records Decision No. 362 (1983). We are not addressing the applicability of section 552.101 regarding criminal history record information or section 552.130 pertaining to driver's license numbers because this information may be withheld under section 552.103.