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March 13, 2000

Ms. Janice Marie Wilson
Associate General Counsel
Texas Department of Transportation
125 E. 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701-2483

OR2000-0978

Dear Ms. Wilson:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 132953.

The Texas Department of Transportation (the "department") received a request for the names and addresses of land owners "for every property that will be acquired by the Texas Department of Transportation, in part or whole," for the department's projects relating to U.S. 380, State Highway 24, and U.S. 82. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.105 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.105 excepts from disclosure information relating to:

(1) the location of real or personal property for a public purpose prior to public announcement of the project; or

(2) appraisals or purchase price of real or personal property for a public purpose prior to the formal award of contracts for the property.

Gov't Code 552.105. Section 552.105 is designed to protect a governmental body's planning and negotiating position with regard to particular transactions. Open Records Decision Nos. 564 (1990), 357 (1982), 310 (1982). Information excepted under section 552.105 that pertains to such negotiation may be excepted so long as the transaction is not complete. Open Records Decision No. 310 (1982). Because this exception extends to "information pertaining to" the location, appraisals, and purchase price of property, it may protect more than a specific appraisal report prepared for a specific piece of property. Open Records Decision No. 564 at 2 (1990). For example, this office has concluded that appraisal information about parcels of land acquired in advance of others to be acquired for the same project could be withheld where this information would harm the governmental body's negotiating position with respect to the remaining parcels. Id.

A governmental body may withhold information "which, if released, would impair or tend to impair [its] 'planning and negotiating position in regard to particular transactions.'" Open Records Decision No. 357 at 3 (1982) (quoting Open Records Decision No. 222 (1979)). When a governmental body has made a good faith determination that the release of information would damage its negotiating position with respect to the acquisition of property, the attorney general will accept that determination unless the records or other information show the contrary as a matter of law. Open Records Decision No. 564 (1990).

You assert that the requested information pertains to real property that the department plans to purchase for the above-mentioned highway projects. You contend that release of the information would adversely affect the purchase price of such property. After examining your arguments and the information you have submitted, we find that section 552.105 is applicable in this instance. You may withhold the submitted information under section 552.105 of the Government Code.

Next we will address the requestor's contention, in his letter dated January 13, 1999, that this office, in response to a request worded exactly the same but to a different governmental body, determined similar information was not excepted from public disclosure. See Open Records Letter No. 98-2618 (1998). In the previous letter, contrary to Collin County's

assertion, we determined that the requested information was not protected by common law privacy pursuant to section 552.101 of the Government Code. In this instance, the department asserts the applicability of section 552.105 of the Government Code. We agree that section 552.105 applies in this instance.

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).

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.

Sincerely,

Noelle C. Letteri
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

ncl/nc

Ref: ID# 132953

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Mark Heidenheimer, P.L.L.C.
2411 Virginia Parkway, Suite 7
McKinney, Texas 75070
(w/o enclosures)


 

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