|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 27, 2000
Ms. Joan Kennerly
Dear Ms. Kennerly:
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 # 141458.
The City of Irving Fire Department (the "department") received a request for a particular investigation report. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.
Initially, we note that the submitted information contains records that are subject to required public disclosure under section 552.022(a) of the Government Code. Section 552.022(a) provides in relevant part:
(a) Without limiting the amount or kind of information that is public information under this chapter, the following categories of information are public information and not excepted from required disclosure under this chapter unless they are expressly confidential under other law:
. . .
(17) information that is also contained in a public court record[.]
Gov't Code § 552.022(a)(17). Section 552.108 is a discretionary exception to disclosure that protects the governmental body's interests and may be waived. As such, it does not constitute "other law," under section 552.022(a), that makes information expressly confidential. You have not raised, and this office is not aware of, any other law under which the submitted information that is contained in public court records is confidential. Accordingly, section 552.022(a)(17) requires the release of such information.
Section 552.108 of the Government Code, the "law enforcement exception," provides in relevant part that "[i]nformation held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from [required public disclosure] if … release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime[.]" Gov't Code § 552.108(a)(1). A governmental body claiming an exception to disclosure under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the responsive information does not do so on its face, how and why section 552.108 is applicable. See Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977); Open Records Decision No. 434 at 2-3 (1986). In this instance, you inform us that the requested information relates to an ongoing criminal investigation. Based on your representations and our review of the submitted information, we find that its release would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. See Gov't Code § 552.108(a)(1); Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976) (court delineates law enforcement interests that are present in active cases). Therefore, we conclude that the requested investigation report is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108(a)(1).
We note, however, that section 552.108 does not except from public disclosure "basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime." Gov't Code § 552.108(c). The department must release the kind of information that is considered to be basic front-page offense and arrest report information, including a detailed description of the offense, even if that information does not actually appear on the front page of the report. See Houston Chronicle, 531 S.W.2d at 186-87; Open Records Decision No. 127 at 3-4 (1976) (summarizing the types of information deemed public by Houston Chronicle).
In summary, the department must release information that also is a matter of public court record, in accordance with section 552.022(a)(17), and basic information in accordance with section 552.108(c). The rest of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108(a)(1).
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).
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.
James W. Morris, III
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division
Ref: ID# 141458
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Terry R. Burke