|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
September 13, 2000
Mr. Scott Kelly
Dear Mr. Kelly:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138993.
The Texas A&M University System (the "system") received a request for all documents the system possesses regarding a named tenured faculty member. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, and 552.114 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative samples of the information.(1)
We first 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(a), the "litigation exception," excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which the state 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. 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 advise this office that the system is currently involved in two lawsuits involving the faculty member who is the subject of the requested information. You have furnished this office with copies of the original complaints filed in the two lawsuits, both of which name the system as a defendant. Therefore, you have demonstrated that litigation is pending. In addition, we have examined the submitted documents and determined that all of the submitted information relates to the pending litigation. Thus, the system has established the applicability of section 552.103 to the requested information, with the exceptions explained below. We note that the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has been concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).
Once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Thus, information that has either been obtained from or provided to the opposing party in the pending litigation is not excepted from disclosure under section 552.103(a), and it must be disclosed. We have marked documents which indicate that they have been obtained from or provided to the opposing party in the pending litigation. Those documents must be released. One of those documents must be redacted as discussed below.
In addition, section 552.103 does not protect from required disclosure information which is specifically made public by section 552.022 of the Government Code. You submitted documents describing the hearing processes of the system, rules of procedure, grievance policies, and other similar documents. Section 552.022 sets forth the categories of public information and provides in pertinent part that:
(a) Without limiting the amount or kind of information that is public information under this chapter, the following categories of information are public information and not excepted from required disclosure under this chapter unless they are expressly confidential under other law:
. . .
(8) a statement of the general course and method by which an agency's functions are channeled and determined, including the nature and requirements of all formal and informal policies and procedures;
(9) a rule of procedure, a description of forms available or the places at which forms may be obtained, and instructions relating to the scope and content of all papers, reports, or examinations;
(10) a substantive rule of general applicability adopted or issued by an agency as authorized by law, and a statement of general policy or interpretation of general applicability formulated and adopted by an agency; [and]
. . .
(13) a policy statement or interpretation that has been adopted or issued by an agency[.]
Section 552.103 is a discretionary exception and is not "other law."(2) We conclude that the system's procedure and policy documents we have tabbed are included in the above categories of section 552.022 and, therefore, must be released as public information.
Among the documents previously released to the opposing party is one which identifies a student. Student-identifying information is excepted from disclosure under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, or section 552.114 of the Government Code. Section 552.026 of the Government Code requires the release of information requested under the Public Information Act to conform with FERPA. 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). 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). That document, with two tabs, must be deidentified as we have marked prior to its release.
Because we find sections 552.101, 552.022, and 552.103 to be dispositive, we do not address your other claimed exceptions. 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# 138993
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Gaines West
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.
2. Discretionary exceptions protect only the interests of the governmental body, as distinct from exceptions which are intended to protect information deemed confidential by law or the interests of third parties. See, e.g., Open Records Decision Nos. 630 at 4 (1994) (governmental body may waive attorney-client privilege, section 552.107(1)), 592 at 8 (1991) (governmental body may waive section 552.104, information relating to competition or bidding), 549 at 6 (1990) (governmental body may waive informer's privilege), 522 at 4 (1989) ( discretionary exceptions in general). Discretionary exceptions therefore do not constitute "other law" that makes information confidential.
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