|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
September 8, 2000
Mr. Ric Gonzalez
Dear Mr. Gonzalez:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138603.
The City of Lewisville (the "city") received a request for the Lewisville Police Department's employment, disciplinary, resignation, and termination records relating to a named peace officer. You state you have released some of the requested information to the requestor. You claim that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.102 and 552.117 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.301 of the Government Code provides that a governmental body must ask the attorney general for a decision as to whether requested documents must be disclosed not later than the tenth business day after the date of receiving the written request. You state that the city received the requestor's written request for information on June 9, 2000. You did not request a decision from this office until June 26, 2000, more than ten business days after the city's receipt of the requestor's written request. Therefore, we conclude that the city failed to meet its ten-day deadline for requesting an opinion from this office.
When a governmental body fails to request a decision within ten business days of receiving a request for information, the information at issue is presumed public. Gov't Code § 552.302; Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379 (Tex. App. -- Austin 1990, no writ); City of Houston v. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co., 673 S.W.2d 316, 323 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, no writ); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). The governmental body must show a compelling interest to withhold the information to overcome this presumption. See id. Normally, a compelling interest is that some other source of law makes the information confidential or that third party interests are at stake. Here, sections 552.101 and 552.117 present compelling reasons to overcome the presumption of openness.
You state the submitted documents pertain to information that is excepted from disclosure under section 551.117(2). Section 552.117(2) requires the city to withhold information pertaining to a peace officer if the information relates to the home address, home telephone number, social security number, or reveals whether the peace officer has family members. After reviewing the submitted documents, we agree that some of the submitted documents are excepted from public disclosure under section 552.117(2). We have marked the documents that the city must withhold in their entirety under section 552.117(2).
We note that the some of the submitted documents are W-4 forms. Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 552.101 encompasses confidentiality provisions such as section 6103(a) of title 26 of the United States Code. Section 6103(a) renders tax return information confidential. The term "return information" includes "the nature, source, or amount of income" of a taxpayer. 26 U.S.C. § 6103(b)(2). This term has been interpreted by federal courts to include any information gathered by the Internal Revenue Service regarding a taxpayer's liability under title 26 of the United States Code. Mallas v. Kolak, 721 F. Supp 748 (M.D.N.C. 1989). Our office has specifically held that W-4 forms must be withheld in their entirety. Open Records Decision No. 600 at 9 (1992). Therefore, you must withhold the submitted W-4 forms under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 6103(a) of title 26 of the United States Code.
Because we are able to make a determination under sections 552.117(2) and 552.101, we need not consider your section 552.102 claim. 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.
Noelle C. Letteri
Ref: ID# 138603
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Jeff Cagle
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US