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March 14, 2000

Mr. Rex McEntire
City Attorney
City of North Richland Hills
P.O. Box 820609
North Richland Hills, Texas 76182-0609

OR2000-1016

Dear Mr. McEntire:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#132930.

The City of North Richland Hills Police Department (the "department") received a request for three documents related to a criminal investigation that has resulted in civil litigation against the city. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.103(a) of the Government Code. Regarding requested Items 1 and 3, you assert that the department is not in possession of the documents requested and, therefore, you are under no duty to produce them. The information at issue, Item 2, is an inventory of the property seized during the investigation by the police. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) is applicable in a particular situation. To show that section 552.103 is applicable, the governmental body must demonstrate that: 1) litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated, and 2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. 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). Section 552.103 requires concrete evidence that litigation may ensue. To establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated, a governmental body must provide this office "concrete evidence showing that the claim that litigation may ensue is more than mere conjecture." 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. Open Records Decision No. 555 (1990); see Open Records Decision No. 518 at 5 (1989) (litigation must be "realistically contemplated"). Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). A governmental body may establish that litigation is reasonably anticipated by showing that: 1) it has received a claim letter from an allegedly injured party or his attorney, and 2) the governmental body states that the letter complies with the notice of claim provisions of the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA") or applicable municipal statute or ordinance. Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996).

You have submitted a copy of a demand letter naming the city as defendant under the TTCA. The letter clearly states the cause of action is based on the department's criminal investigation which generated the requested documents. We conclude that litigation is reasonably anticipated, and that the requested inventory, Item 2, is related to the reasonably anticipated litigation for purposes of section 552.103.(1) Thus, you may withhold the information requested in Item 2, an inventory of items seized by the department from the plaintiff's home, from public disclosure under section 552.103.

We note that once information has been obtained by all parties to the litigation through discovery or otherwise, no section 552.103(a) interest exists with respect to that information. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). Thus, information that has either been obtained from or provided to the opposing party in the anticipated litigation is not excepted from disclosure under section 552.103(a), and it must be disclosed. We also note that the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation has concluded. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).

In summary, we do not address Items 1 and 3 because you state these documents are not in your possession. The department may withhold Item 2 because it is the subject of reasonably anticipated litigation.

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 Dep't 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,

Kay H. Hastings
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

KHH/CHS/ljp

Ref: ID# 132930

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Newton L. Osborn, Jr.
222 Blazing Star Lane
Dillard, Georgia 30537
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. We note that your proof of service in two civil cases was not attached to the file presented to this office as indicated in your letter. Because a TTCA demand letter was included, further proof of anticipated litigation was unnecessary.
 

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