|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
September 5, 2000
Mr. David Anderson
Dear Mr. Anderson:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138658.
The Texas Education Agency (the "agency") received a request for all "documents related to the investigation conducted in spring 2000 regarding irregularities in TAAS testing at White Rock Elementary School, Richardson Independent School District." You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.116 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative sample of the information.(1)
We first address your section 552.116 claim. Section 552.116 of the Government Code provides:
(a) An audit working paper of an audit of the state auditor or the auditor of a state agency or institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021. If information in an audit working paper is also maintained in another record, that other record is not excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 by this section.
(b) In this section:
(1) "Audit" means an audit authorized or required by a statute of this state or the United States and includes an investigation.
(2) "Audit working paper" includes all information, documentary or otherwise, prepared or maintained in conducting an audit or preparing an audit report, including:
(A) intra-agency and interagency communications; and
(B) drafts of the audit report or portions of those drafts.
A governmental body that invokes section 552.116 must explain that the audit working papers are from an audit "authorized or required by a statute of this state or the United States." Gov't Code § 552.116(b)(1). You have not identified any statute authorizing or requiring an audit. Furthermore, while an audit "includes an investigation" according to section 552.116(b)(1), an "investigation" under this provision is defined by section 321.0136 of the Government Code to be "an inquiry into specified acts or allegations of impropriety, malfeasance, or nonfeasance in the obligation, expenditure, receipt, or use of state funds, or into specified financial transactions or practices that may involve such impropriety, malfeasance, or nonfeasance (emphasis added). Gov't Code § 321.0136. See also Gov't Code § 2102.003 (defining term "audit" for purposes of Texas Internal Auditing Act to include investigation described by Gov't Code § 321.0136). We have reviewed the submitted information. You have not demonstrated that the information constitutes "audit working paper[s]" as contemplated by Government Code section 552.116. Accordingly, the agency may not withhold the requested information under section 552.116.
Next, we consider your section 552.103 claim. Section 552.103(a) excepts from required public disclosure 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.
Gov't Code § 552.103(a). Section 552.103, the "litigation exception," excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The agency has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that the section 552.103(a) exception is applicable in a particular situation. The test for meeting this burden is a showing that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date the requestor applies for the information, 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, 481 (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). The agency must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103(a). To demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated, the governmental body must furnish concrete evidence that litigation involving a specific matter is realistically contemplated and is more than mere conjecture. Open Records Decision No. 452 (1986). The mere chance of litigation will not trigger section 552.103(a). Id. You indicate that the requested information may be used in a licensing action against the requestor. You have not demonstrated, nor does it appear, that the agency would be a party in this licensing action. Therefore, you may not withhold the requested information under section 552.103(a).
You also seek to withhold identifying information pursuant to the informer's privilege under section 552.101. Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses the informer's privilege. The informer's privilege has been recognized by Texas courts. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969). It protects from disclosure the identities of persons who report activities over which the governmental body has criminal or quasi-criminal law-enforcement authority, provided that the subject of the information does not already know the informer's identity. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 3 (1988), 208 at 1-2 (1978). The informer's privilege protects the identities of individuals who report violations of statutes to the police or similar law-enforcement agencies, as well as those who report violations of statutes with civil or criminal penalties to "administrative officials having a duty of inspection or of law enforcement within their particular spheres." Open Records Decision No. 279 at 2 (1981) (citing Wigmore, Evidence, § 2374, at 767 (McNaughton rev. ed. 1961)). The report must be of a violation of a criminal or civil statute. See Open Records Decision Nos. 582 at 2 (1990), 515 at 4-5 (1988). You have not identified to this office any specific criminal or civil statute that is alleged to have been violated. See Gov't Code § 552.301(e)(1)(A). As you have not informed us of any specific law that is reported to have been violated, we conclude that you may not withhold any information under section 552.101 in conjunction with the informer's privilege.
We note that some of the information responsive to the request is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, or section 552.114 of the Government Code. FERPA provides that no federal funds will be made available under any applicable program to an educational agency or institution that releases personally identifiable information, other than directory information, contained in a student's education records to anyone but certain enumerated federal, state, and local officials and institutions, unless otherwise authorized by the student's parent. See 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1); see also 34 C.F.R. § 99.3 (defining personally identifiable information). Section 552.026 of the Government Code incorporates FERPA into chapter 552 of the Government Code. See Open Records Decision No. 634 at 6-8 (1995). Section 552.026 provides as follows:
This chapter does not require the release of information contained in education records of an educational agency or institution, except in conformity with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, Sec. 513, Pub. L. No. 93-380, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g.
Gov't Code § 552.026. "Education records" under FERPA are those records that contain information directly related to a student and that are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution. See 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(4)(A). Information must be withheld from required public disclosure under FERPA only to the extent "reasonable and necessary to avoid personally identifying a particular student." See Open Records Decision Nos. 332 at 3 (1982), 206 at 2 (1978).
Section 552.114(a) of the Government Code requires that the district withhold "information in a student record at an educational institution funded wholly or partly by state revenue." Gov't Code § 552.114(a). This office generally has treated "student record" information under section 552.114(a) as the equivalent of "education record" information that is protected by FERPA. See Open Records Decision No. 634 at 5 (1995). Therefore, you must redact from the submitted information records all student names and other information tending to identify students, such as birth dates, social security numbers, and documents handwritten by students, which we observed in the submitted information.
We also note that the submitted information contains Texas driver's license numbers. Section 552.130 of the Government Code excepts information that relates to a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state or a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state. Consequently, the agency must withhold the Texas driver's license numbers. We have marked the information that you must withhold under section 552.130.
We also note that the submitted documents contain social security numbers. Social security numbers may be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 of the Government Code. A social security number or "related record" may be excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). These amendments make confidential social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. We have no basis for concluding that any of the social security numbers in the records here are confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), and therefore excepted from public disclosure on the basis of that federal provision. We caution, however, that section 552.352 of the Public Information Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing any social security number information, you should ensure that no such information was obtained or is maintained pursuant to any provision of law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
In summary, the agency must withhold the student-identifying information under section 552.101 and FERPA. The agency must also withhold Texas driver's license numbers under section 552.130. In addition, any social security numbers that are obtained or maintained by the agency pursuant to a law enacted on or after October 1, 1990, are confidential. The agency must release the remaining requested information, including the submitted tape recording, edited to remove the social security number, if it was obtained or maintained by the agency pursuant to a law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
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).
Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497.
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.
Patricia Michels Anderson
Ref: ID# 138658
Encl. Submitted documents, tape
cc: Ms. Fancy H. Jezek
1. 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). Here, we do not address any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than those submitted to this office.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US