Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 12, 2002
Mr. Therold I. Farmer
Dear Mr. Farmer:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173538.
The La Vega Independent School District (the "district"), which you represent, received a request for documents pertaining to a former employee of the district.(1) We assume that the district has released any other responsive information that existed when this request for information was received. If not, then the district must do so at this time. See Gov't Code §§ 552.301, .302; Open Records Decision No. 664 (2000). You claim that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, 552.114, and 552.131 of the Government Code, and under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA"). We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.(2) Although you argue that a portion of the submitted information is protected as attorney work product pursuant to section 552.107 of the Government Code, the attorney work product privilege is recognized under section 552.111. Thus, we address your work product argument under section 552.111.
We note that the submitted information is subject to section 552.022. Section 552.022(a) enumerates categories of information that are public information and not excepted from required disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code unless they are expressly confidential under other law. The information that you submitted to us for review is a completed investigation, which falls into one of the categories of information made expressly public by section 552.022. See Gov't Code section 522.022(a)(1). Section 552.022(a)(1) states that a completed report, audit, evaluation, or investigation made of, for, or by a governmental body is expressly public unless it is excepted under section 552.108 of the Government Code or is expressly confidential under other law.(3) Sections 552.107 and 552.111 of the Government Code are discretionary exceptions to disclosure that protect the governmental body's interests and are therefore not other law that makes information expressly confidential for purposes of section 552.022(a). See Open Records Decision Nos. 676 at 5-6 (2002) (section 552.107 not other law for purposes of section 552.022), 677 at 8-9 (2002) (section 552.111 not other law for purposes of section 552.022). Therefore, we will not address your arguments under these sections. However, the Texas Supreme Court has held that "[t]he Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and Texas Rules of Evidence are 'other law' within the meaning of section 552.022." See In re City of Georgetown, 53 S.W.3d 328, 336 (Tex. 2001). This office has determined that when the attorney-client privilege or work-product privilege is claimed for information that is subject to release under section 552.022, the proper analysis is whether the information at issue is excepted under Texas Rule of Evidence 503 (attorney-client communications) or Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 192.5 (work product). ORD 676 at 5-6, 677 at 8-9. We will therefore consider whether the submitted information is excepted under these rules or confidential under the mandatory exceptions you claim.
We first address the arguments regarding student record information. FERPA provides that no federal funds will be made available under any applicable program to an educational agency or institution that releases personally identifiable information (other than directory information) contained in a student's education records to anyone but certain enumerated federal, state, and local officials and institutions, unless otherwise authorized by the student's parent. See 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1). "Education records" means those records that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution. Id. § 1232g(a)(4)(A). This office generally applies the same analysis under section 552.114 and FERPA. Open Records Decision No. 539 (1990).
Section 552.114 excepts from disclosure student records at an educational institution funded completely or in part by state revenue. Section 552.026 provides as follows:
This chapter does not require the release of information contained in education records of an educational agency or institution, except in conformity with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, Sec. 513, Pub. L. No. 93-380, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g.
In Open Records Decision No. 634 (1995), this office concluded that (1) an educational agency or institution may withhold from public disclosure information that is protected by FERPA and excepted from required public disclosure by sections 552.026 and 552.101 without the necessity of requesting an attorney general decision as to those exceptions, and (2) an educational agency or institution that is state-funded may withhold from public disclosure information that is excepted from required public disclosure by section 552.114 as a "student record," insofar as the "student record" is protected by FERPA, without the necessity of requesting an attorney general decision as to that exception. In this instance, the district has submitted the responsive information that it believes to be subject to FERPA. Therefore, we will address the applicability of FERPA to that information.
Information must be withheld from required public disclosure under FERPA only to the extent "reasonable and necessary to avoid personally identifying a particular student." See Open Records Decision Nos. 332 (1982), 206 (1978). For purposes of FERPA, a students' handwritten letters constitute "education records" in that they contain information about identifiable students. See Open Records Decision No. 224 (1979) (FERPA protects student's handwritten comments that would make identity of student easily traceable through handwriting, style of expression, or particular incidents related). Therefore, pursuant to FERPA, the district must withhold from public disclosure information that may reveal or tend to reveal information about a student.(4)
We now address your arguments regarding the attorney-client privilege. Rule 503 of the Texas Rules of Evidence provides:
A client has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications made for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services to the client:
(A) between the client or a representative of the client and the client's lawyer or a representative of the lawyer;
(B) between the layer and the lawyer's representative;
(C) by the client or a representative of the client, or the client's lawyer or a representative of the lawyer, to a lawyer or a representative of a lawyer representing another party in a pending action and concerning a matter of common interest therein;
(D) between representatives of the client or between the client and a representative of the client; or
(E) among lawyers and their representatives representing the same client.
A communication is "confidential" if not intended to be disclosed to third persons other than those to whom disclosure is made in furtherance of the rendition of professional legal services to the client or those reasonably necessary for the transmission of the communication. Tex. R. Evid. 503(a)(5).
Accordingly, in order to withhold attorney-client privileged information from disclosure under Rule 503, a governmental body must 1) show that the document is a communication transmitted between privileged parties or reveals a confidential communication; 2) identify the parties involved in the communication; and 3) show that the communication is confidential by explaining that it was not intended to be disclosed to third persons and that it was made in furtherance of the rendition of professional legal services to the client. Upon a demonstration of all three factors, the document containing privileged information is confidential under Rule 503 provided the client has not waived the privilege or the document does not fall within the purview of the exceptions to the privilege enumerated in Rule 503(d). Pittsburgh Corning Corp. v. Caldwell, 861 S.W.2d 423, 427 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1993, no writ). Based on our review of the submitted information, we conclude that a portion of these documents reveals confidential communications and is therefore excepted from disclosure under Rule 503. We have marked the information that the district may withhold under Rule 503.
You further claim that some of the submitted information is excepted from disclosure because it is attorney work product. An attorney's work product is confidential under Rule 192.5 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Work product is defined as
(1) material prepared or mental impressions developed in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for a party or a party's representatives, including the party's attorneys, consultants, sureties, indemnitors, insurers, employees, or agents; or
(2) a communication made in anticipation of litigation or for trial between a party and the party's representatives or among a party's representatives, including the party's attorneys, consultants, sureties, indemnitors, insurers, employees, or agents.
Tex. R. Civ. P. 192.5(a). Accordingly, in order to withhold attorney work product from disclosure under Rule 192.5, a governmental body must demonstrate that the material, communication, or mental impression was created for trial or in anticipation of litigation. Id. To show that the information at issue was created in anticipation of litigation, a governmental body must demonstrate that 1) a reasonable person would have concluded from the totality of the circumstances surrounding the investigation that there was a substantial chance that litigation would ensue, and 2) the party resisting discovery believed in good faith that there was a substantial chance that litigation would ensue and conducted the investigation for the purpose of preparing for such litigation. See National Tank v. Brotherton, 851 S.W.2d 193, 207 (Tex. 1993). A "substantial chance" of litigation does not mean a statistical probability, but rather "that litigation is more than merely an abstract possibility or unwarranted fear." Id. at 204. Information that meets the work product test is confidential under Rule 192.5 provided the information does not fall within the purview of the exceptions to the privilege enumerated in Rule 192.5(c). Pittsburgh Corning Corp. v. Caldwell, 861 S.W.2d 423, 427 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1993, no writ). Here, you have failed to show that the information at issue was created for trial or in anticipation of litigation. In fact, you make no reference to litigation at all. Consequently, the district may not withhold any of the submitted information under Rule 192.5 as attorney work product.
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 other statutes. Section 21.355 of the Education Code provides, "A document evaluating the performance of a teacher or administrator is confidential." This office interpreted this section to apply to any document that evaluates, as that term is commonly understood, the performance of a teacher or administrator. Open Records Decision No. 643 (1996). In that opinion, this office also concluded that for purposes of section 21.355, a teacher is someone who is required to hold and does hold a certificate or permit required under chapter 21 of the Education Code and is teaching at the time of his or her evaluation. Id. Similarly, an administrator is someone who is required to hold and does hold a certificate required under chapter 21 of the Education Code and is administering at the time of his or her evaluation. Id. Based on the reasoning set out in Open Records Decision No. 643, we conclude that none of the documents submitted to this office evaluate the performance of a teacher or administrator, and that, therefore, section 21.355 of the Education Code is inapplicable.
Section 552.101 also encompasses the doctrine of common-law privacy. Common-law privacy protects information if (1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is not of legitimate concern to the public. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 685 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). 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.
In Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied), the court addressed the applicability of the common law privacy doctrine to files of an investigation of allegations of sexual harassment. The investigation files in Ellen contained individual witness statements, an affidavit by the individual accused of the misconduct responding to the allegations, and conclusions of the board of inquiry that conducted the investigation. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d at 525. The court ordered the release of the affidavit of the person under investigation and the conclusions of the board of inquiry, stating that the public's interest was sufficiently served by the disclosure of such documents. Id. In concluding, the Ellen court held that "the public did not possess a legitimate interest in the identities of the individual witnesses, nor the details of their personal statements beyond what is contained in the documents that have been ordered released." Id.
In this instance, there is no adequate summary of the sexual harassment investigations. Therefore, the district must release most of the submitted information that pertains to investigations of sexual harassment. However, based on Ellen, the department must withhold the identities of the victims and the witnesses. We have marked the information that must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with common-law privacy.(5)
Section 552.117 may also be applicable to some of the submitted 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 district 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 made. For those employees who timely elected to keep their personal information confidential, the district must withhold the employees' home addresses and telephone numbers, social security numbers, and any information that reveals whether these employees have family members. The school district may not withhold this information under section 552.117 for those employees who did not make a timely election to keep the information confidential.
Finally, we note that the submitted information also contains e-mail addresses obtained from members of the public. Section 552.137 makes certain e-mail addresses confidential.(6) This section provides:
(a) An e-mail address of a member of the public that is provided for the purpose of communicating electronically with a governmental body is confidential and not subject to disclosure under this chapter.
(b) Confidential information described by this section that relates to a member of the public may be disclosed if the member of the public affirmatively consents to its release.
Gov't Code §552.137. You do not inform us that a member of the public has affirmatively consented to the release of any e-mail address contained in the submitted materials. The district must, therefore, withhold e-mail addresses of members of the public under section 552.137.
In summary, pursuant to FERPA, the district must withhold from public disclosure information that may reveal or tend to reveal information about a student. We have marked the information that the district may withhold under Texas Rule of Evidence 503, and the information that must be withheld under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with common-law privacy. For those employees who timely elected to keep their personal information confidential, the district must withhold the employees' home addresses and telephone numbers, social security numbers, and any information that reveals whether these employees have family members. The district must withhold e-mail addresses of members of the public under section 552.137. The remaining submitted 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 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.
c: Ms. Robbelyn Edwards
1. We note that an earlier request from the same requestor, dated September 19, 2002,was withdrawn by the requestor on October 1, 2002.
2. We note the request for information submitted to the district is not from a member of the public but from another governmental entity. We ruled in Open Records Decision No. 661 (1999) that whether a governmental entity may release information to another governmental entity is not a question under the Public Information Act (the "Act") as the Act is concerned with the required release of information to the public. Gov't Code §§ 552.001, .002, .021; see Attorney General Opinions, H-683 (1975), H-242 (1974), M-713 (1970); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997). For many years, this office has recognized that it is the public policy of this state that governmental bodies should cooperate with each other in the interest of the efficient and economical administration of statutory duties. See, e. g., Attorney General Opinion H-836 (1976); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997). But see Attorney General Opinions DM-353 at 4 n. 6 (1995) (interagency transfer prohibited where confidentiality statute enumerates specific entities to which release of confidential information is authorized and where receiving agency is not among statute's enumerated entities), JM-590 (1986) (same); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997) (same), 650 (1996) (transfer of confidential information to federal agency impermissible unless federal law requires its disclosure). In adherence to this policy, this office has acknowledged that certain information may be transferred between governmental bodies without violating its confidential character on the basis of a recognized need to maintain an unrestricted flow of information between governmental bodies. See Attorney General Opinions H-836 (1976), H-242 (1974), M-713 (1970); Open Records Decision Nos. 655 (1997), 414 (1984). Moreover, the release of information by one agency to another agency is not a release to the public for the purposes of section 552.007 of the Government Code, which prohibits the selective disclosure of information, or for those of section 552.352, which provides criminal penalties for the release of information that is considered to be confidential. Open Records Decision No. 516 (1989).
3. We note that you do not raise section 552.108 of the Government Code as an exception to disclosure of the information at issue.
4. We note that information that must be withheld pursuant to FERPA is not the type of information that may be transferred between governmental bodies without violating its confidential character. See Attorney General Opinions DM-353 at 4 n. 6 (1995) (interagency transfer prohibited where confidentiality statute enumerates specific entities to which release of confidential information is authorized and where receiving agency is not among statute's enumerated entities), JM-590 (1986) (same); Open Records Decision No. 655 (1997) (same), 650 (1996) (transfer of confidential information to federal agency impermissible unless federal law requires its disclosure).
5. As our ruling is dispositive as to the information at issue, we do not address your arguments under section 552.131 or the informer's privilege.
6. The language of section 552.136, as added by House Bill 2589, is identical to that of section 552.137.
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