|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 2, 2001
Mr. Timothy K. Irvine
Dear Mr. Irvine:
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# 142792.
The Texas Savings and Loan Department (the "department") received a request for information relating to a named mortgage broker licensee. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.101 excepts "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This exception applies to information made confidential by the common law right to privacy. Industrial Foundation v. Texas Industrial Accident Board, 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Information may be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with the common law right to privacy if the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that release of the information would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and if the information is of no legitimate concern to the public. Id. Financial information concerning an individual is generally protected by a common law right of privacy. See Open Records Decision Nos. 545 (1990), 523 (1989). A previous opinion of this office states that "all financial information relating to an individual . . . ordinarily satisfies the first requirement of common law privacy, in that it constitutes highly intimate or embarrassing facts about the individual, such that its public disclosure would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities." Open Records Decision No. 373 at 3 (1983).
The department relates that the subject information was provided as proof of compliance with the Mortgage Broker License Act, and that the interest of the public in this information is satisfied by the department's confirmation that an applicant meets those requirements. The department notes that issuance of the subject license is such confirmation. From our review of the submitted information we conclude that it is personal financial information and that the issuance of a license, or other confirmation by the department that an applicant has met the statutory requirements for such a license, satisfies the legitimate public interest in this information. There is no legitimate public interest in the details of such statements. Therefore, the responsive information is protected by the common law right of privacy and must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code.
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.
Michael Jay Burns
Ref: ID# 142792
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Ben C. Lambeth
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US