|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 31, 2000
Mr. Randall C. Stump
Dear Mr. Stump:
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 #140852.
The City of Bartlett (the "city"), which you represent, received a request for the first responder patient sheets regarding assistance provided on specified dates and documentation relating to the police chief's car. You state that the information relating to the police chief's vehicle has been provided to the requestor. You claim, however, that a portion of the information responsive to the request for the first responder patient sheets is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. You have submitted the responsive information for our review. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
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. Section 773.091 of the Health and Safety Code provides:
(b) Records of the identity, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by emergency medical services personnel or by a physician providing medical supervision that are created by the emergency medical services personnel or physician or maintained by an emergency medical services provider are confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
This confidentiality "does not extend to information regarding the presence, nature of injury or illness, age, sex, occupation, and city of residence of a patient who is receiving emergency medical services." Id. § 773.091(g). You explain that the city does not have emergency medical services ("EMS"), and that the city's first responder organization, which is composed of certified EMS personnel, provides on-scene care until an ambulance arrives.(1) You explain that a patient care report is made for each call where a patient is thereafter transported.
We conclude that the city must withhold a portion of the submitted information under section 773.091 of the Health and Safety Code. It does not appear that any of the exceptions to confidentiality set forth in section 773.092 of the Health and Safety Code apply in this instance. Accordingly, the city must withhold the submitted information under section 552.101 of the Government Code, except for information required to be released under section 773.091(g).
You explain that the majority of the information required to be released under section 773.091(g) has been released to the requestor. You argue, however, that a portion of this information is excepted from disclosure under Government Code section 552.101 in conjunction with 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 do not agree that the information required to be released under section 773.091(g) includes information that is excepted under section 552.101 in conjunction with common law privacy as that information does not reveal the patient's identity. Accordingly, the city may not withhold this information pursuant to section 552.101.
In summary, the city must withhold the submitted information under section 552.101 of the Government Code, except for information required to be released under section 773.091(g).
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
Ref: ID# 140852
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Vyki Robbins
1. A "first responder organization" is defined as "a group or association of certified emergency medical services personnel that, working in cooperation with a licensed emergency medical services provider, provides immediate on-scene care to ill or injured persons but does not transport those persons." Health & Safety Code § 773.003(16).
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