|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
July 18, 2000
Ms. Elizabeth Lutton
Dear Ms. Lutton:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138430.
The City of Arlington (the "city") received a request for numerous documents concerning a former city employee and the city's leave policies. You claim that most of the requested information is subject to release. You claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.107 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information and the representative sample of medical documents.(1)
You assert that Exhibit 2, an e-mail responsive to the request for "all documents referring or relating to any overtime" by the former employee, is excepted from disclosure under section 552.107. Section 552.107(1) excepts information that an attorney of a political subdivision cannot disclose because of a duty to his client. In Open Records Decision No. 574 (1990), this office concluded that section 552.107 excepts from public disclosure only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions; it does not apply to all client information held by a governmental body's attorney. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5 (1990). When communications from attorney to client do not reveal the client's communications to the attorney, section 552.107 protects them only to the extent that such communications reveal the attorney's legal opinion or advice. Id. at 3. In addition, purely factual communications from attorney to client, or between attorneys representing the client, are not protected. Id. You have submitted an e-mail reflecting the city attorney's legal opinion regarding personnel matters. After reviewing the submitted information, we conclude that you may withhold Exhibit 2 under section 552.107(1).
You also contend that Exhibit 3, which is responsive to the request for "all documents referring or relating to any and all delinquent or tardy medical substantiation for medical or family leaves by any City employees occurring in 1997-2000," is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101. 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 statute. The Medical Practice Act ("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.
Occupation Code § 159.002(b).(2) 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). Because Exhibit 3 is a letter from an employee's doctor concerning an evaluation of the employee's health, you must withhold Exhibit 3 under section 552.101 in conjunction with 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# 138430
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Roger L. Hurlbut
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 the MPA formerly appeared in Vernon's Texas Civil Statues as article 4495b, section 5.08(b). The Seventy-Sixth Legislature repealed article 4495b and codified the MPA in the Occupations Code.