|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 26, 2000
Mr. Dennis P. Duffy
Dear Mr. Duffy:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 140581.
The University of Houston (the "university") received a request for the requestor's personnel file. You state that you are providing the requestor with a copy of his personnel evaluation. You claim that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.103(a) provides as follows:
(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is 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.
A governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show the applicability of an exception in a particular situation. The test for establishing that section 552.103(a) applies is a two-prong showing that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479 (Tex. App.-Austin 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 588 (1991). Further, litigation must be pending or reasonably anticipated on the date the requestor applies to the public information officer for access. Gov't Code § 552.103(c).
To establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated, a governmental body must provide this office "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture." Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). Concrete evidence to support a claim that litigation is reasonably anticipated may include, for example, the governmental body's receipt of a letter containing a specific threat to sue the governmental body from an attorney for a potential opposing party. Open Records Decision No. 555 (1990); see Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989) (litigation must be "realistically contemplated").
You explain that the requestor has filed a formal grievance with the university regarding his termination. You have provided a copy of the grievance in which the requestor states that the appeal relates to wrongful termination and retaliation by a specified university employee. You then assert section 554.006 of the Government Code which provides, in relevant part, that an aggrieved party must initiate action under the grievance or appeal procedures of the employing state or local governmental entity before filing suit. See Gov't Code § 554.006(a). Chapter 554 of the Government Code, known as the Whistleblower Act, provides procedures for filing suit against a governmental body that suspends or terminates an employee who in good faith reports a violation of law to an appropriate enforcement authority.
After reviewing your arguments and the submitted information, we do not believe that you have demonstrated the applicability of section 554.006(a). The mere allegation that the termination was retaliatory is insufficient because the retaliation must be for reporting a violation of law which has not been shown in this case. Further, you have not otherwise demonstrated the existence of pending or reasonably anticipated litigation under section 552.103. See e.g., Open Records Decision No. 588 at 7 (1991) (finding that contested case under the statutory predecessor to the APA constitutes "litigation"). Therefore, you may not withhold the submitted information under section 552.103.
We note that section 552.117(2) of the Government Code excepts from disclosure the home address, home telephone number, social security number and family member information of a peace officer regardless of whether the peace officer made an election under section 552.024 of the Government Code. However, section 552.023 of the Government Code grants a special right of access to a person or a person's authorized representative to records that contain information relating to the person that are protected from public disclosure by laws intended to protect that person's privacy interests. Section 552.117(2) is intended to protect a peace officer's privacy interests. Thus, the requestor has a special right of access to the information which would be excepted under section 552.117(2). Thus, you must release the submitted information 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.
Ref: ID# 140581
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Frank J. Cempa