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March 16, 2000

Ms. Sara Shiplet Waitt
Senior Associate Commissioner
Legal and Compliance Division
Texas Department of Insurance
Post Office Box 149104
Austin, Texas 78714-9104

OR2000-1047

Dear Ms. Waitt:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134273.

The Texas Department of Insurance (the "department") received a written request from one of its employees for the contents of the requestor's personnel file. You state that most of the responsive information will be released. You contend, however, that information identifying individuals who have filed complaints against their respective insurance companies is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with common law privacy.

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 common law privacy and excepts from disclosure private facts about an individual. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). Information must be withheld from the public when (1) it is highly intimate and embarrassing such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) there is no legitimate public interest in its disclosure. Id. at 685; Open Records Decision No. 611 at 1 (1992).

We have reviewed the information at issue and agree that information identifying individuals as enrollees in particular health insurance plans is confidential. Open Records Decision Nos. 600 at 9-12 (1992) (personal financial choices concerning insurance are generally confidential), 373 (1983) (personal financial information generally confidential). Therefore, the department must redact the complainants' and insureds' names, identification numbers, street addresses, and telephone numbers. The remaining information in the submitted documents, including the names of individuals other than complainants and insureds, the nature of the complainants' medical conditions, and group identification numbers, 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).

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,

Patricia Michels Anderson
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

PMA/RWP/ch

Ref.: ID# 134273

cc: Ms. Beverly Dawn Weeks
1702 Channel Road
Austin, Texas 78746
(w/o enclosures)


 

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