|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 10, 2000
Mr. Kevin D. Pagan
Dear Mr. Pagan:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140393.
South Texas Community College (the "college"), which you represent, received a request for the records of a college employee. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.108 of the Government Code.(1) We have considered the exceptions 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 552.101 encompasses the common law right to privacy. This right protects information if (1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is of no legitimate concern to the public. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 685 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The Industrial Foundation Court considered intimate and embarrassing information such as that relating to sexual assault, pregnancy, mental or physical abuse in the workplace, illegitimate children, psychiatric treatment of mental disorders, attempted suicide, and injuries to sexual organs. Id. At 683. Applying these principles, this office his held that certain types of information are excepted from public disclosure by the right to privacy. See Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (concluding that fact that a person broke out in hives as a result of severe emotional distress is excepted by common law privacy), 455 (1987) (concluding that kinds of prescription drugs a person is taking are protected by common law privacy), 422 (1984) (concluding that details of self-inflicted injuries are presumed protected by common law privacy) 343 (1982) (concluding that information regarding drug overdoses, acute alcohol intoxication, obstetrical/gynecological illnesses, convulsions/seizures, or emotional/mental distress is protected by common law privacy). However, from our review of the submitted information, we conclude that none of this information may be withheld as protected by the common law right to privacy.
Section 552.101 also encompasses information protected by other statutes. Prior decisions of this office have held that title 26, section 6103(a) of the United States Code renders tax return information confidential. Attorney General Opinion H-1274 (1978) (tax returns); Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992) (W-4 forms), 226 (1979) (W-2 forms). Generally, any information gathered by the Internal Revenue Service regarding a taxpayer's liability under title 26 of the United States Code is confidential. Mallas v. Kolak, 721 F. Supp. 748 (M.D.N.C. 1989); Dowd v. Calabrese, 101 F.R.D. 427 (D.C. 1984). The responsive IRS forms must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
Social security numbers may be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 of the Government Code. A social security number or "related record" may be excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). These amendments make confidential social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. We have no basis for concluding that any of the social security numbers in the records here are confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), and therefore excepted from public disclosure on the basis of that federal provision. We caution, however, that section 552.353 of the Open Records Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing any social security number information, you should ensure that no such information was obtained or is maintained pursuant to any provision of law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
You raise the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA") 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g. This statute, as well as sections 552.114 and 552.026 of the Government Code, protects information which identifies specific students in government funded educational facilities. See Open Records Decision No. 539 (1990). From our review of the submitted information, we conclude that it does not identify any such students. Therefore, no information may be withheld under FERPA.
You also assert section 552.108 of the Government Code. This section excepts from public disclosure certain information held by law enforcement agencies or prosecutors that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). Here, the college is not a law enforcement agency or a prosecutor, and there is no indication that a law enforcement agency or prosecutor has requested that the responsive information be withheld. Further, there is no indication that the submitted information relates to any crime. We conclude that you have not demonstrated that the submitted information may be withheld under section 552.108 of the Government Code.
Some of the submitted information may be subject to exception under section 552.117 of the Government Code. This section excepts from required public disclosure the home addresses, home telephone numbers, social security numbers, and personal family member information of public employees who request that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. Section 552.117 requires you to withhold this information if the subject of the requested records requested that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. See Open Records Decision Nos. 622 (1994), 455 (1987). We note that the submitted materials include an employee election that telephone numbers and home addresses not be disclosed, however there is no indication that such an election was made for social security numbers or for family member information. You may not withhold this information of a current or former employee unless such an election was made before the request for information was received. Whether a particular piece of information is public must be determined at the time the request for it is made. Open Records Decision No. 530 at 5 (1989).
In conclusion, you must withhold IRS forms; social security numbers obtained and maintained pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990; and employee home addresses and home telephone numbers. The remaining responsive information must be released to this requestor.
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 Jay Burns
Ref: ID# 140393
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Dr. Kenneth L. Buckman
1. Section 552.101 is implicated by your claim that responsive information is protected by a right to privacy or by statute.
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