|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
November 9, 2000
Mr. Paul C. Sarahan, Director
Dear Mr. Sarahan:
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# 141121.
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (the "commission") received two requests from the same requestor for information concerning Intertek Testing Services Environmental Laboratories, Inc. You claim that the information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.103, 552.107, 552.108, 552.111, and 552.116 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative sample of the information requested.(1)
Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) is applicable in a particular situation. In order to meet this burden, the governmental body must show 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, 212 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). Section 552.103 requires concrete evidence that litigation may ensue. To demonstrate that litigation is reasonably anticipated, the city must furnish evidence that litigation is realistically contemplated and is more than mere conjecture. Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986).
You inform this office that "indictments which will charge Intertek Testing Services Environmental Laboratories, Inc. and several of it's [sic] former employees are scheduled to be presented to the Grand Jury on September 19, 2000." However, the commission states that the information at issue is directly related to a federal criminal investigation. You do not represent, nor is it clear to us, that the commission will be a party to any anticipated litigation. Therefore, we find that the commission may not withhold the requested information under section 552.103.
You also raise an argument under section 552.108(a)(1) of the Government Code. Section 552.108 of the Government Code states that information 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). 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 section 552.108 is applicable. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108, .301(e)(1)(A); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). You explain that the requested documents relate to an ongoing investigation. Specifically, you reference investigator's notes that are "handwritten, reflecting internal thought processes regarding the case." However, you did not submit these handwritten documents, or a representative sample of those documents, or any documents that you represent and identify as being excepted from required public disclosure under section 552.108(a)(1). Because you have not submitted the information you claim is protected under section 552.108, we are unable to make a determination as to those documents. As such, you may not withhold any of the requested information under section 552.108. See also Gov't Code §§ 552.301, .302.
We now address your argument under section 552.107. Section 552.107(1) excepts information that an attorney cannot disclose because of a duty to her client. Only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions is excepted from public disclosure by section 552.107; it does not apply to all client information held by a governmental body's attorney. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5. (1990). Section 552.107(1) does not except purely factual information from disclosure, nor does it protect information gathered by an attorney as a fact-finder. Open Records Decision Nos. 574 (1990), 559 (1990), 462 (1987). Section 552.107(1) does not except from disclosure factual recounting of events or the documentation of calls made, meetings attended, and memoranda sent. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5 (1990). You have submitted a representative sample of a document that you claim is excepted under 552.107. We agree that this portion of the information constitutes an attorney's legal advice or confidential client communications excepted from public disclosure by section 552.107.
Section 552.111 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure "an interagency or intraagency memorandum or letter that would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency." In Open Records Decision No. 615 (1993), this office reexamined the predecessor to the section 552.111 exception in light of the decision in Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408 (Tex. App.--Austin 1992, no writ), and held that section 552.111 excepts only those internal communications consisting of advice, recommendations, opinions, and other material reflecting the policymaking processes of the governmental body. An agency's policymaking functions do not encompass internal administrative or personnel matters, and disclosure of information about such matters will not inhibit free discussion of policy issues among agency personnel. Open Records Decision No. 615 at 5-6 (1993). In addition, section 552.111 does not protect facts and written observation of facts and events that are severable from advice, opinions, and recommendation. Open Records Decision No. 615 at 4-5 (1993). If, however, the factual information is so inextricably intertwined with material involving advice, opinion, or recommendation as to make separation of the factual data impractical, that information may be withheld under section 552.111. Open Records Decision No. 313 (1982). After reviewing the document you have submitted as protected under section 552.111, we conclude that it does not encompass the policymaking process. Therefore, the commission may not withhold the requested information under section 552.111.
You also seek to withhold some of the submitted documents under section 552.116 as audit working papers. Section 552.116 provides as follows:
(a) An audit working paper of an audit of the state auditor or the auditor of a state agency or institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, is excepted from [public disclosure]. If information in an audit working paper is also maintained in another record, that other record is not excepted from [public disclosure] by this section.
(b) In this section:
(1) 'Audit' means an audit authorized or required by a statute of this state or the United States and includes an investigation.
(2) 'Audit working paper' includes all information, documentary or otherwise, prepared or maintained in conducting an audit or preparing an audit report, including:
(A) intra-agency and interagency communications; and
(B) drafts of the audit report or portions of those drafts.
Gov't Code § 552.116. However, you do not indicate, nor is it clear to us, that this document was created by the state auditor or the auditor of the commission. As such, section 552.116 is inapplicable to the information at issue.
In summary, you may withhold those portions of the information that you have identified as being representative of documents excepted under section 552.107. The remaining responsive 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.
Ref: ID# 141121
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. S. Cass Weiland
1. In reaching our conclusion here, we assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach, and therefore does not authorize the withholding of, any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.