Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 5, 2002
Mr. Don R. Bradley
Dear Mr. Bradley:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173203.
The Texas Department of Health (the "department") received a request for information relating to a workplace assessment conducted by department staff of the requestor's program. You inform us that you have released or will release to the requestor most of the requested information, but claim that a portion is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.117 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, we note that, pursuant to section 552.301(e) of the Government Code, a governmental body is required to submit to this office within fifteen business days of receiving an open records request (1) general written comments stating the reasons why any stated exceptions apply that would allow the information to be withheld, (2) a copy of the written request for information, (3) a signed statement or sufficient evidence showing the date the governmental body received the written request, and (4) a copy of the specific information requested or representative samples, labeled to indicate which exceptions apply to which parts of the documents. You did not, however, submit to this office a copy of the request for information.
Pursuant to section 552.302 of the Government Code, a governmental body's failure to submit to this office the information required in section 552.301(e) results in the legal presumption that the information is public and must be released. Information that is presumed public must be released unless a governmental body demonstrates a compelling reason to withhold the information to overcome this presumption. See Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381-82 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ) (governmental body must make compelling demonstration to overcome presumption of openness pursuant to statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.302); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). Compelling reasons exist when the information is made confidential by law or affects the interest of a third party. Open Records Decision No. 630 at 3 (1994). In this instance, you claim that a portion of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.117 of the Government Code. These exceptions presents compelling reasons to overcome the presumption of openness. Therefore, we will address your arguments against disclosure.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by common-law privacy and excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. See Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Therefore, information must 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. 540 S.W.2d at 683. See also Open Records Decision No. 659 at 4-5 (1999) (summarizing types of information that are protected by rights of privacy).
Constitutional privacy consists of two interrelated types of privacy: (1) the right to make certain kinds of decisions independently and (2) an individual's interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. Open Records Decision No. 455 at 4 (1987). The first type protects an individual's autonomy within "zones of privacy" which include matters related to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education. Id. The second type of constitutional privacy requires a balancing between the individual's privacy interests and the public's need to know information of public concern. Id. The scope of information protected is narrower than that under the common law doctrine of privacy; the information must concern the "most intimate aspects of human affairs." Id. at 5 (citing Ramie v. City of Hedwig Village, Texas, 765 F.2d 490 (5th Cir. 1985)).
However, this office has stated in numerous formal decisions that there is a legitimate public interest in how a public employee conducts himself while on-duty and how he performs his job functions. See Open Records Decision Nos. 484 (1987) (public's interest in knowing how police departments resolve complaints against police officers ordinarily outweighs officers' privacy interest), 470 at 4 (1987) (public has legitimate interest in job performance of public employees), 455 (1987) (public employee's job performances or abilities generally not protected by privacy), 423 at 2 (1984) (scope of public employee privacy is narrow), 329 (1982) (reasons for an employee's resignation are not ordinarily excepted by constitutional or common-law privacy), 444 (1986) (public has legitimate interest in knowing reasons for dismissal, demotion, promotion, or resignation of public employees). Based upon the foregoing and our review of the submitted information, we conclude that a portion of the submitted information is confidential under common-law privacy and therefore excepted from disclosure under section 552.101. We have marked this information.
Section 552.117 excepts from disclosure the home addresses and telephone numbers, social security numbers, and family member information of current or former officials or employees of a governmental body who request that this information be kept confidential under section 552.024. Whether a particular piece of information is protected by section 552.117 must be determined at the time the request for it is made. See Open Records Decision No. 530 at 5 (1989). Therefore, the department may only withhold information under section 552.117 on behalf of current or former officials or employees who made a request for confidentiality under section 552.024 prior to the date on which the request for this information was received by the department. You inform us that the submitted documents contain information on a certain employee who has, or employees who have, asked that certain information be withheld. You have marked the documents accordingly. Therefore, assuming these employees made their election prior to the date the records request was received by the department, we agree that a portion of the submitted information is excepted under section 552.117(1). We have marked the information subject to section 552.117(1).
To summarize, the department must withhold the information we have marked under section 552.101 in conjunction with common-law privacy, as well as under section 552.117(1) if the employees made a timely election under section 552.024. The remaining 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 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 A. Pearle
c: Mr. John Garcia
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US