|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
September 11, 2000
Mr. James L. Hall
Dear Mr. Hall:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act (the "Act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138914.
The Department of Criminal Justice (the "department") received a request for information relating to the requestor's brother, an inmate. You claim that the information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, and 552.131 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, we note that you have raised section 552.028, which provides:
(a) A governmental body is not required to accept or comply with a request for information from:
(1) an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a correctional facility; or
(2) an agent of that individual, other than that individual's attorney when the attorney is requesting information that is subject to disclosure under this chapter.
(b) This section does not prohibit a governmental body from disclosing to an individual described by Subsection (a)(1), or that individual's agent, information held by the governmental body pertaining to that individual.
(c) In this section, 'correctional facility' has the meaning assigned by Section 1.07(a), Penal Code.
Gov't Code § 552.028. You represent that if the requestor is proceeding on behalf of her brother, "an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a correctional facility," the department is under no obligation to respond to the request. We agree. Therefore, if the requestor is indeed acting as her brother's agent, the Act gives the department the discretion to either "comply with" this request or deny it in its entirety.
Section 552.131 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure information obtained or maintained by the department which relates to an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under contract with the department. We note, however, that basic information regarding an incident involving an alleged crime involving the inmate must be released in accordance with section 552.029(8) of the Government Code. This office has determined that basic information includes the time and place of the incident, names of inmates and department officials directly involved in the incident, a brief narrative of the incident, a brief description of any injuries sustained, and information regarding criminal charges or disciplinary actions filed as a result of the incident. Therefore, with the exception of basic information made public by section 552.029(8), the department must withhold the submitted information from disclosure under section 552.131.
You also assert that the information is excepted from disclosure by sections 552.101 and 552.107(2) in conjunction with the decision in Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F. Supp. 1265 (S.D. Tex. 1980), aff'd in part and vacated in part, 679 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir.), amended in part, 688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982). Section 552.107(2) states that information is excepted from required public disclosure if "a court by order has prohibited disclosure of the information." The Ruiz decision restricted the dissemination of "sensitive information" regarding inmates. The Ruiz final judgment, entered December 11, 1992, gave the Board of Criminal Justice (the "Board") authority to define the term "sensitive information." The Board met on January 21, 2000, and decided that "the term 'Sensitive Information' shall include all information regarding TDCJ-ID offenders not required to be disclosed pursuant to Section 552.029, Government Code." Thus, information in the categories delineated in section 552.029 of the Government Code is not excepted from required public disclosure by section 552.107(2) in conjunction with the Ruiz court order.
In summary, if the requestor is acting as her brother's agent, compliance with this request is at the department's discretion under section 552.028. Should the department decide to comply with the request, with the exception of basic information made public by section 552.029(8), the department must withhold the submitted information under section 552.131.
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.
Ref: ID# 138914
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Mae Brantley
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US