|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
July 17, 2000
Ms. Tenley Aldredge
Dear Ms. Aldredge:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 137083.
The Travis County Attorney's Office (the "county attorney") received a written request for all records pertaining to the investigation of the death of a University of Texas student who died from an overdose of alcohol. You state that the county attorney has released most of the responsive information, including attorney work product, to the requestor. You contend, however, that certain other documents are excepted from public disclosure pursuant to sections 552.101 and 552.130 of the Government Code.
Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision," including information coming within the common law right to privacy. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). 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 it is of no legitimate concern to the public. Id. at 683-85. The right of privacy, however, is purely personal and lapses upon death. See Moore v. Charles B. Pierce Film Enterprises Inc., 589 S.W.2d 489 (Tex. Civ. App.--Texarkana 1979, writ ref'd n.r.e.); see also Attorney General Opinions JM-229 (1984); H-917 (1976). Consequently, the county attorney may not withhold any of the information at issue pertaining to the deceased individual on privacy grounds.
You also contend that certain personal financial information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. This office has found that an individual's personal financial information not relating to the financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body is excepted from required public disclosure under common law privacy. See Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992), 545 (1990). Some of the documents you submitted for our review contain information about individuals' personal insurance coverage. This information reveals information about individuals' personal finances and personal financial decisions. We conclude, therefore, that the county attorney must withhold such information from the public pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have marked these documents accordingly.(1)
You also contend that a driver's license number contained in a citation issued by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is excepted from public disclosure pursuant to section 552.130 of the Government Code. We note, however, that the citation appears to have been filed with a justice of the peace court. Section 552.022(a)(17) of the Government Code specifically makes public "information that is also contained in a public court record." Records that have been filed with a court are "not excepted from required disclosure under this chapter unless they are expressly confidential under other law." (Emphasis added.) You have not cited to any law outside the Public Information Act, and we are aware of none, that prohibits the county attorney from releasing driver's license numbers. Accordingly, the county attorney must release the copy of the citation in its entirety.
In summary, the county attorney must withhold the documents we have marked, which contain individuals' personal financial information, pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the common law right of privacy. All of the remaining information at issue must be released 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.
Carla Gay Dickson
Ref: ID# 137083
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Sherri Sanders
1. This office could not identify any personal financial information in some of the documents you seek to withhold pursuant to section 552.101. Consequently, the county attorney must release those documents.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US