|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 12, 2000
Ms. Amy L. Sims
Dear Ms. Sims:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 142063.
The City of Lubbock (the "city") received a request for a bid submitted by Comchoice, Inc. ("Comchoice") in response to the city's request for proposal number 00016 regarding pay telephones. You explain that the city takes no position as to the release of the requested information, but you have notified Comchoice of the request for information pursuant to section 552.305. See Gov't Code § 552.305 (permitting interested third party to submit to attorney general reasons why requested information should not be released); Open Records Decision No. 542 (1990) (determining that statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.305 permits governmental body to rely on interested third party to raise and explain applicability of exception in Open Records Act in certain circumstances). Comchoice has responded, claiming that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.102, 552.104, and 552.110 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.101 excepts from required public disclosure "information that is confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Although Comchoice has raised this provision, it has neither cited any type of confidentiality law that would apply to the information, nor has it offered any explanation as to its applicability to the information. Moreover, we have reviewed the information at issue and find none of it to be confidential. Therefore, the city may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.101.
Section 552.102(a) protects "information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy . . . ." The scope of section 552.102(a) protection, however, is very narrow. See Open Records Decision No. 336 (1982). See also Attorney General Opinion JM-36 (1983). The test for section 552.102(a) protection is the same as that for information protected by common law privacy under section 552.101: the information must contain highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the information must be of no legitimate concern to the public. Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Tex. Newspapers, Inc., 652 S.W.2d 546, 550 (Tex. App.--Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.). Again, Comchoice has provided no arguments or factual background to explain the applicability of section 552.102(a) to the information at issue. Moreover, after having reviewed the information, we find none that falls under common law privacy. Therefore, the city may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.102(a).
Section 552.102(b) generally excepts from required disclosure "a transcript from an institution of higher education maintained in the personnel file of a professional public school employee." As the submitted information does not contain any such transcripts, section 552.102(b) is inapplicable to the submitted information. Therefore, the city may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.102(b).
Section 552.104 excepts from required public disclosure information that "if released, would give advantage to a competitor or bidder." We note, however, that section 552.104 protects the interests of governmental bodies, not private third parties. Open Records Decision No. 592 (1991). Since the city has not raised section 552.104, section 552.104 is not applicable to the information at issue. Id. (governmental body may waive its section 552.104 interest).
Comchoice also claims that some of the submitted information contains trade secrets. Section 552.110(a) provides:
(a) A trade secret obtained from a person and privileged or confidential by statute or judicial decision is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021.
Gov't Code § 552.110(a). A "trade secret"
may consist of any formula, pattern, device or compilation of information which is used in one's business, and which gives him an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it. It may be a formula for a chemical compound, a process of manufacturing, treating or preserving materials, a pattern for a machine or other device, or a list of customers. It differs from other secret information in a business . . . in that it is not simply information as to single or ephemeral events in the conduct of the business . . . . A trade secret is a process or device for continuous use in the operation of the business. . . . [It may] relate to the sale of goods or to other operations in the business, such as a code for determining discounts, rebates or other concessions in a price list or catalogue, or a list of specialized customers, or a method of bookkeeping or other office management.
Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939). See also Hyde Corp. v. Huffines, 314 S.W.2d 763, 776 (Tex. 1958); Open Records Decision Nos. 255 (1980), 232 (1979), 217 (1978).
There are six factors to be assessed in determining whether information qualifies as a trade secret:
(1) the extent to which the information is known outside of [the company's] business;
(2) the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in [the company's] business;
(3) the extent of measures taken by [the company] to guard the secrecy of the information;
(4) the value of the information to [the company] and to [its] competitors;
(5) the amount of effort or money expended by [the company] in developing this information; and
(6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others.
Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939); see also Open Records Decision No. 232 (1979).
If a governmental body takes no position with regard to the application of the "trade secrets" branch of section 552.110 to requested information, we accept a private party's claim for exception as valid under that branch if that person establishes a prima facie case for exception and no one submits an argument that rebuts the claim as a matter of law. Open Records Decision No. 552 at 5 (1990). However, where no evidence of the factors necessary to establish a trade secret claim is made we cannot conclude that section 552.110 applies. Open Records Decision No. 402 (1983). Because Comchoice has offered no argument or explanation as to why any of the submitted information contains trade secrets, we must conclude that Comchoice has not made a prima facie case that the information is protected under the trade secret aspect of section 552.110.
Finally, Comchoice claims that some of the information is excepted under the financial or commercial information prong of section 552.110. Section 552.110(b) states:
(b) Commercial or financial information for which it is demonstrated based on specific factual evidence that disclosure would cause substantial competitive harm to the person from whom the information was obtained is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021.
Gov't Code § 552.110(b). The governmental body, or interested third party, raising this exception must provide a specific factual or evidentiary showing, not conclusory or generalized allegations, that substantial competitive injury would likely result from disclosure. Gov't Code § 552.110(b); see also National Parks & Conservation Ass'n v. Morton, 498 F.2d 765 (D.C. Cir. 1974). As Comchoice has only provided conclusory statements as opposed to arguments or explanations as to why the release of the submitted information would cause substantial competitive injury, Comchoice has not adequately shown that the information falls under section 552.110(b). Therefore, the city may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.110.
In conclusion, the city must release all of 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 Hadassah Schloss at 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.
E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Ref: ID# 142063
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Andres Lopez, Jr.
Mr. Paul Joseph, Stautzenberger
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US