Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 10, 2002
Mr. Kuruvilla Oommen
Dear Mr. Oommen:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173348.
The City of Houston (the "city") received three requests from the same requestor for information relating to investigations of three named employees of the fire department by the Office of the Inspector General (the "OIG"). You state that the city has no information that is responsive to one of the requests. Chapter 552 of the Government Code does not require the city to release information that did not exist when it received this request or to create responsive information. See Open Records Decision Nos. 605 at 2 (1992), 452 at 3 (1986), 362 at 2 (1983). You claim that the information that is responsive to the other two requests is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you raise and have reviewed the information you submitted.(1)
Initially, we note that some of the submitted information is addressed in a previous open records letter ruling. In Open Records Letter No. 2002-5532 (2002), we concluded that information relating to OIG case numbers 02-041 and 02-047 is excepted from public disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 143.1214 of the Local Government Code. You do not inform this office of any change in the law, facts, and circumstances on which the prior ruling is based. Therefore, you may continue to rely on Open Records Letter No. 2002-5532 (2002) with regard to the requested information that relates to OIG case numbers 02-041 and 02-047. See Gov't Code § 552.301(a); Open Records Decision No. 673 at 6-7 (2001) (attorney general decision constitutes first type of previous determination under Gov't Code § 552.301(a) when (1) precisely same records or information previously were submitted under Gov't Code § 552.301(e)(1)(D); (2) same governmental body previously requested and received ruling; (3) prior ruling concluded that same records or information are or are not excepted from disclosure; and (4) law, facts, and circumstances on which prior ruling was based have not changed).
You claim that the rest of the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This exception protects information that another statute makes confidential. You raise section 552.101 in conjunction with section 143.1214 of the Local Government Code. Section 143.1214 provides in part:
(b) The department shall maintain an investigatory file that relates to a disciplinary action against a fire fighter or police officer that was overturned on appeal, or any document in the possession of the department that relates to a charge of misconduct against a fire fighter or police officer, regardless of whether the charge is sustained, only in a file created by the department for the department's use. The department may only release information in those investigatory files or documents relating to a charge of misconduct:
(1) to another law enforcement agency or fire department;
(2) to the office of a district or United States attorney; or
(3) in accordance with Subsection (c).
(c) The department head or the department head's designee may forward a document that relates to a disciplinary action against a fire fighter or police officer to the [civil service] director or the director's designee for inclusion in the fire fighter's or police officer's personnel file maintained under Sections 143.089(a)-(f) [of the Local Government Code] only if:
(1) disciplinary action was actually taken against the fire fighter or police officer;
(2) the document shows the disciplinary action taken; and
(3) the document includes at least a brief summary of the facts on which the disciplinary action was based.
Local Gov't Code § 143.1214(b)-(c). You state that the rest of the submitted information relates to the OIG's investigations of allegations of misconduct by fire fighters. You inform us that this information is held in a file created by the OIG for its use and is not held in personnel files maintained under section 143.089 of the Local Government Code. You also state that this information does not meet the conditions specified by section 143.1214(c) for inclusion in a fire fighter's civil service file. See id. § 143.1214(c); see also id. § 143.089(a)-(f). Based on your representations, we conclude that the rest of the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 143.1214 of the Local Government Code as information made confidential by law. See also Open Records Decision No. 642 (1996) (concluding that files relating to investigations of Houston Fire Department personnel by Public Integrity Review Group of Houston Police Department were confidential under section 143.1214).
In summary, the city may rely on Open Records Letter No. 2002-5532 (2002) with regard to the submitted information that relates to OIG case numbers 02-041 and 02-047. The rest of the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 143.1214 of the Local 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 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.
James W. Morris, III
c: Mr. Russell T. Crumpler
1. This letter ruling assumes that the submitted representative sample of information is truly representative of the requested information as a whole. This ruling neither reaches nor authorizes the city to withhold any information that is substantially different from the submitted information. See Gov't Code § 552.301(e)(1)(D): Open Records Decision Nos. 499 at 6 (1988), 497 at 4 (1988).
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