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April 18, 2000

Ms. Susan Combs
Commissioner
Texas Department of Agriculture
P.O. Box 12847
Austin, Texas 78711

OR2000-1542

Dear Ms. Combs:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134967.

The Texas Department of Agriculture (the "department") received a written request for all information pertaining to TDA Incident No. 2424-03-99-0019. You state that the department will release most of the requested records. You seek to withhold, however, one intra-office memorandum as "attorney work product" pursuant to section 552.111 of the Government Code.(1)

The first requirement that must be met to consider information "attorney work product" is that the information must have been created for trial or in anticipation of litigation. In order for this office to conclude that information was created in anticipation of litigation, we must be satisfied that

a) 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 b) 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. After reviewing the totality of the circumstances surrounding the department's investigation, we believe that both of these tests have been met in this instance.

The second requirement that must be met is that the work product "consists of or tends to reveal the thought processes of an attorney in the civil litigation process." Open Records Decision No. 647 at 4 (1996). Although the attorney work product privilege protects information that reveals the mental processes, conclusions, and legal theories of the attorney, it generally does not extend to a neutral recital of facts obtained by the attorney. Id. After reviewing the memorandum at issue, we do not believe that this document contains a neutral recital of facts. Accordingly, we conclude that the department may withhold this record as attorney work product pursuant to section 552.111 of the Government Code.

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,

Amanda Crawford
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

AEC/RWP/nc

Ref: ID# 134967

Encl. Submitted document

cc: Mr. Joe B. Stephens
Stephens & Stephens
7407 Old Katy Road, Second Floor
Houston, Texas 77024
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. Because we resolve your request under section 552.111, we need not address your other arguments for non-disclosure.
 

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