|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
September 21, 2000
Mr. Scott Gibson
Dear Mr. Gibson:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140865.
The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners (the "board") received a request for the name of a person who filed a complaint with the board. You claim that the requested information is protected under the informer's privilege and is therefore excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Gov't Code § 552.101. Texas courts have recognized the validity of the informer's privilege, which 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)); see Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969). 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). The privilege excepts the informer's statement only to the extent necessary to protect that informer's identity. Open Records Decision No. 549 at 5 (1990).
Here, the informer reported a potential violation of article 249a, section 13 of the Texas Civil Statutes to the board. See V.T.C.S. art. 249a, §§ 3(d), 13(a). Violation of article 249a, section 13 carries with it a pecuniary penalty enforceable by the board. Id. Therefore, we find the informer's identity is privileged and the board may withhold the identifying information of the informer from the requestor. See generally Open Records Decision No. 156 (1977) (name of person who makes complaint about another individual to city's animal control division is excepted from disclosure by informer's privilege so long as information furnished discloses potential violation of state law).
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 Dep't of Pub. 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.
Nathan E. Bowden
Ref: ID# 140865
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Robert Ferkin