Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 19, 2002
Ms. Lillian Guillen Graham
Dear Ms. Graham:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173936.
The Mesquite Police Department (the "department") received a request for all information relating to a particular vehicle that was impounded in December 2000 or January 2001. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, 552.111, and 552.130 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Thus, section 552.101 encompasses information made confidential by statute. Included among these documents is an accident report form that appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code § 550.064 (officer's accident report). Section 550.065(b) of the Transportation Code states that except as provided by subsection (c), accident reports are privileged and confidential. Section 550.065(c)(4) provides for release of accident reports to a person who provides two of the following three pieces of information: (1) date of the accident; (2) name of any person involved in the accident; and (3) specific location of the accident. Transp. Code § 550.065(c)(4)). Under this provision, the Department of Public Safety or another governmental entity is required to release a copy of an accident report to a person who provides the agency with two or more pieces of information specified by the statute. Id. In the situation at hand, the requestor has not provided the department with two of the three pieces of information. Thus, you must withhold the accident report that we have marked under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 550.065(b).
You claim that the submitted information is excepted under section 552.103 of the Government Code. Section 552.103 provides in pertinent part:
(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if it is information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person's office or employment, is or may be a party.
. . . .
(c) Information relating to litigation involving a governmental body or an officer or employee of a governmental body is excepted from disclosure under Subsection (a) only if the litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the requestor applies to the officer for public information for access to or duplication of the information.
Gov't Code, § 552.103(a), (c). The governmental body maintains the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that the section 552.103(a) exception is applicable in a particular situation. The test for meeting this burden is a showing that (1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the governmental body receives the request for information and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. See University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479, 481 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no pet.); see also Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210, 212 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). The department must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103(a).
A governmental body must provide this office with "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture" when establishing that litigation is reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). Concrete evidence to support a claim that litigation is reasonably anticipated may include, for example, the governmental body's receipt of a letter containing a specific threat to sue the governmental body from an attorney for a potential opposing party.(1) See Open Records Decision Nos. 555 (1990), 518 at 5 (1989) (litigation must be "realistically contemplated"). On the other hand, this office has determined that if an individual publicly threatens to bring suit against a governmental body, but does not actually take objective steps toward filing suit, litigation is not reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision No. 331 (1982). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. See Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986).
In this instance, you claim that some of the submitted information supports a reasonable belief that the department or the City of Mesquite (the "city") will become a party to civil litigation. Upon review of this information, however, we find that it does not provide concrete evidence of objective steps taken towards litigation. Therefore, you have not demonstrated that the department or city reasonably anticipated litigation on the date of the department's receipt of the request for the information, and the department may not withhold the requested information under section 552.103. See Gov't Code § 552.103(c).
We note that the submitted information contains the social security number of an individual, which may be confidential under federal law. A social security number may be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). These amendments make confidential social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. We have no basis for concluding that the social security number is confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), and therefore excepted from public disclosure under section 552.101 of the Act on the basis of that federal provision. We caution, however, that section 552.352 of the Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing the social security number, you should ensure that it was not obtained or is not maintained by the department pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
Furthermore, the submitted documents contain some private information that must be withheld under section 552.101. Section 552.101 also encompasses the doctrine of common-law privacy. Common law privacy protects information if it is highly intimate or embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the public has no legitimate interest in it. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976). Prior decisions of this office have found that personal financial information not relating to a financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body is protected by common law privacy. See Open Records Decision Nos. 600 (1992), 545 (1990). We have marked the personal financial information in the submitted documents that must be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with common law privacy.
You also claim that the submitted documents contain information that is excepted from disclosure under section 552.111. Section 552.111 excepts from disclosure "an interagency or intraagency memorandum or letter that would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency." In Open Records Decision No. 615 (1993), this office reexamined the predecessor to the section 552.111 exception in light of the decision in Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408 (Tex. App.--Austin 1992, no writ), and held that section 552.111 excepts only those internal communications consisting of advice, recommendations, opinions, and other material reflecting the policymaking processes of the governmental body. City of Garland v. Dallas Morning News, 22 S.W.3d 351, 364 (Tex. 2000); Arlington Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Texas Attorney Gen., 37 S.W.3d 152 (Tex. App.--Austin 2001, no pet.). An agency's policymaking functions do not encompass internal administrative or personnel matters; disclosure of information relating to such matters will not inhibit free discussion among agency personnel as to policy issues. ORD 615 at 5-6. Additionally, section 552.111 does not generally except from disclosure purely factual information that is severable from the opinion portions of internal memoranda. Arlington Indep. Sch. Dist., 37 S.W.3d at 160; ORD 615 at 4-5.
After reviewing the information at issue, we find that none of it constitutes interagency or intraagency communications consisting of advice, recommendations, and opinions reflecting the policymaking processes of the department or the city. Therefore, you may not withhold any information under section 552.111.
You further claim that some information is excepted under chapter 730 of the Transportation Code. Section 730.004 of the Transportation Code provides:
Notwithstanding any other provisions of law to the contrary, including chapter 552, Government Code, except as provided by Sections 730.005-730.008, an agency may not disclose personal information about any person obtained by the agency in connection with a motor vehicle record.
Section 730.003 provides that, for purposes of chapter 730 of the Transportation Code:
(1) "Agency" includes any agency or political subdivision of this state, or an authorized agent or contractor of an agency of this state, that compiles or maintains motor vehicle records.
. . .
(4) "Motor vehicle record" means a record that pertains to a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit, motor vehicle registration, motor vehicle title, or identification document issued by an agency of this state or a local agency authorized to issue an identification document. The term does not include:
(A) a record that pertains to a motor carrier; or
(B) an accident report prepared under Chapter 550 or 601.
Transp. Code § 730.003(1), (4). Section 730.004 only applies to an "agency" that compiles or maintains motor vehicle records. See Transp. Code § 730.003(1). We do not believe that the department compiles or maintains motor vehicle records and, therefore, section 730.004 does not apply to the department. Accordingly, none of the requested information may be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with section 730.004 of the Transportation Code. See Open Records Decision No. 478 at 2 (1987) (language of confidentiality statute controls scope of protection).
Finally, we turn to your related claim under section 552.130 of the Government Code. Section 552.130 excepts from disclosure information relating to a driver's license or motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state. Gov't Code § 552.130. Thus, the department must withhold the Texas driver's license, license plate, and vehicle identification numbers, and title information we have marked under section 552.130. However, section 552.130 does not except such information issued by a state other than Texas, and therefore, you may not withhold such information.
In summary, you must withhold the accident report we have marked under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 550.065(b) of the Transportation Code. A social security number contained in the documents may be confidential under section 552.101 and the federal Social Security Act. The personal financial information we have marked must be withheld under section 552.101 and common-law privacy. You must withhold the driver's license, license plate, and vehicle identification numbers, and title information we have marked under section 552.130. The remaining requested information must be released.
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. Prissy Cross
1. In addition, this office has concluded that litigation was reasonably anticipated when the potential opposing party took the following objective steps toward litigation: hired an attorney who made a demand for disputed payments and threatened to sue if the payments were not made promptly, see Open Records Decision No. 346 (1982); and threatened to sue on several occasions and hired an attorney, see Open Records Decision No. 288 (1981).
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US