|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 2, 2000
Ms. Mary E. Reveles
Dear Ms. Reveles:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140996.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff") received a request for 11 categories of information related to an investigation of child abuse. You inform us that you have released six of the requested categories of information to the requestor, that three categories relate to information that does not exist,(1) and that another request is for permission for the requestor to take a photograph of a Sheriff's Office van. You seek to withhold one category of requested information under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 261.201 of the Family Code, and section 552.108 of the Government. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Section 261.201(a) of the Family Code provides as follows:
(a) The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:
(1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and
(2) except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, audiotapes, videotapes and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.
Because the requested documents relate to an allegation of child abuse, the documents are within the scope of section 261.201 of the Family Code. You have not indicated that the Sheriff has adopted a rule that governs the release of this type of information. Therefore, we assume that no such regulation exists. Given that assumption, the requested documents are confidential pursuant to section 261.201 of the Family Code. See Open Records Decision No. 440 at 2 (1986)(predecessor statute). Accordingly, the Sheriff must withhold these documents from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code as information made confidential by law.(2) As we resolve your request under section 552.101, we need not address your argument under section 552.108.
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.
Michael A. Pearle
Ref: ID# 140996
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Gary W. Gates, Jr.
1. With regard to the information requested which you assert does not exist, chapter 552 of the Government Code does not require a governmental body to make available information which did not exist at the time the request was received. Open Records Decision No. 362 (1983); see Open Records Decision No. 452 (1986) (document not within chapter 552's purview if it does not exist when governmental body receives a request for it). Nor is a governmental body required to prepare new information to respond to a request for information. Open Records Decision No. 605 (1992), 572 (1990), 416 (1984).
2. We note that as the investigation has been referred to the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (the "department"), the requestor may be entitled to access to the department's records. Section 261.201(g) of the Family Code provides that the department, upon request and subject to its own rules:
shall provide to the parent, managing conservator, or other legal representative of a child who is the subject of reported abuse or neglect information concerning the reported abuse or neglect that would otherwise be confidential under this section if the department has edited the information to protect the confidentiality of the identity of the person who made the report and any other person whose life or safety may be endangered by the disclosure.
Fam. Code § 261.201(g).
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US