|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 12, 2000
Mr. J. David Dodd, III
Dear Mr. Dodd:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140423.
The City of Allen (the "city"), which you represent, received a request for all records related to an incident involving the requestor's former wife. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
You argue that a portion of the submitted information is excepted from public disclosure under Government Code section 552.101 in conjunction with sections 611.002 and 773.091 of the Health and Safety Code. Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Thus, section 552.101 encompasses statutes that govern confidentiality. Chapter 611 of the Health and Safety Code provides for the confidentiality of records created or maintained by a mental health professional. Section 611.002(a) reads as follows:
Communications between a patient and a professional, and records of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient that are created or maintained by a professional, are confidential.
Health & Safety Code § 611.002(a). Section 611.001 defines a "professional" as (1) a person authorized to practice medicine, (2) a person licensed or certified by the state to diagnose, evaluate or treat mental or emotional conditions or disorders, or (3) a person the patient reasonably believes is authorized, licensed, or certified. Sections 611.004 and 611.0045 provide for access to mental health records only by certain individuals, including the patient. See Open Records Decision No. 565 (1990).
You explain that in this instance the form at issue was "filled out by [a] doctor." Based on this representation and our review of the submitted information, we conclude that the document must be withheld pursuant to section 552.101 in conjunction with section 611.002.
The submitted information includes information that is confidential under section 552.101 of the Government Code and common law privacy. Under common law privacy, private facts about an individual are excepted from disclosure. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976). Information may be withheld from the public when (1) it is highly intimate and embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) there is no legitimate public interest in its disclosure. Id. at 685; Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992). The type of information considered intimate and embarrassing by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation included information 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. Additionally, this office has found that information regarding some kinds of medical information or information indicating disabilities or specific illnesses is also excepted from required public disclosure under common law privacy. See Open Records Decision Nos. 470 (1987) (illness from severe emotional and job-related stress), 455 (1987) (prescription drugs, illnesses, operations, and physical handicaps).
We agree that the submitted information contains information which is highly intimate or embarrassing and of no legitimate interest to the public. Accordingly, the city must withhold this information pursuant to common law privacy in conjunction with section 552.101 of the Government Code. For your reference, we have marked the information at issue.(1)
In addition, the submitted information contains a Texas driver's license number. Subsection 552.130(a)(1) of the Government Code excepts from public disclosure information relating to a driver's license issued by an agency of this state. Therefore, you must withhold the driver's license number under section 552.130.
In summary, a portion of the submitted information may be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with common-law privacy. The Texas driver's license number must be withheld under section 552.130. The remaining information must be released to the 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.
Julie Reagan Watson
Encl. Marked documents
cc: Mr. Paul Moorefield
Ms. Stephanie Moorefield
1. Please note that we disagree with the markings that you have made on the redacted version of the submitted information. We have marked the information excepted under section 552.101 on the un-redacted version of the submitted information.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US