Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 4, 2002
Ms. Eva Marie Pridemore
Dear Ms. Pridemore:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#173070.
The Woodway Public Safety Department (the "department") received an open records request for the police report for case number 02-1351.(1) You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, we note that some of the submitted documents consist of medical records, access to which is governed by the Medical Practice Act (the "MPA"), chapter 159 of the Occupations Code. Section 159.002 of the MPA provides:
(a) A communication between a physician and a patient, relative to or in connection with any professional services as a physician to the patient, is confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
(b) A record of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician that is created or maintained by a physician is confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
(c) A person who receives information from a confidential communication or record as described by this chapter, other than a person listed in Section 159.004 who is acting on the patient's behalf, may not disclose the information except to the extent that disclosure is consistent with the authorized purposes for which the information was first obtained.
Occ. Code § 159.004. Information that is subject to the MPA includes both medical records and information obtained from those medical records. See Occ. Code §§ 159.002, .004; Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). This office has concluded that the protection afforded by section 159.002 extends only to records created by either a physician or someone under the supervision of a physician. See Open Records Decision Nos. 487 (1987), 370(1983), 343 (1982). We have further found that when a file is created as the result of a hospital stay, all the documents in the file relating to diagnosis and treatment constitute physician-patient communications or "[r]ecords of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician that are created or maintained by a physician." Open Records Decision No. 546 (1990).
Section 159.002(c) also requires that any subsequent release of medical records be consistent with the purposes for which the governmental body obtained the records. Open Records Decision No. 565 at 7 (1990). Medical records may be released only as provided under the MPA. Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). As the patient is a minor, the medical records may be released only on the signed consent of the parent or legal guardian of the patient. Occ. Code § 159.005(a)(2). That consent must specify (1) the information to be covered by the release, (2) reasons or purposes for the release, and (3) the person to whom the information is to be released. Occ. Code §§ 159.004, .005. We have marked the documents that consist of medical records and are therefore subject to the MPA. This information may be released only in accordance with the MPA.
We will now address your claimed exceptions with respect to the remaining 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." Although section 552.101 encompasses confidentiality provisions such as Family Code section 58.007, the juvenile at issue is the victim rather than the offender. Section 58.007 makes confidential law enforcement records relating to juveniles engaging in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision. As such, Family Code section 261.201 is more applicable in this situation. The relevant language of section 261.201 reads as follows:
(a) The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:
(1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and
(2) except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, audiotapes, videotapes, and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.
We believe that the remaining submitted information consists of reports, records, and working papers used or developed in an investigation made under chapter 261 of the Family Code. Because you have not cited any specific rule that the investigating agency has adopted with regard to the release of this type of information, we assume that no such regulation exists. Given that assumption, the remaining submitted information is confidential pursuant to section 261.201 of the Family Code.(2) See Open Records Decision No. 440 at 2 (1986) (construing predecessor statute). You must withhold the remaining information from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. As this section together with the MPA are dispositive, we need not address your other argument.
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 Texas Building and Procurement 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. We note that a third party may challenge this ruling by filing suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor. Gov't Code § 552.325. 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.
Heather Pendleton Ross
c: Ms. Merrilee L. Harmon
1. We note that, under the Public Information Act, "[a] subpoena duces tecum or a request for discovery that is issued in compliance with a statute or a rule of civil or criminal procedure is not considered to be a request for information[.]" Gov't Code § 552.0055. As such, we address only the request referencing case number 02-1351.
2. We note that if the investigation has been referred to the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (the "department"), a parent who is a requestor may be entitled to access to the department's records. Section 261.201(g) of the Family Code provides that the department, upon request and subject to its own rules:
shall provide to the parent, managing conservator, or other legal representative of a child who is the subject of reported abuse or neglect information concerning the reported abuse or neglect that would otherwise be confidential under this section if the department has edited the information to protect the confidentiality of the identity of the person who made the report and any other person whose life or safety may be endangered by the disclosure.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US