|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
June 14, 2000
Mr. Jason C. Marshall
Dear Mr. Marshall:
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# 137639.
The City of Sachse (the "city"), which you represent, received a request for information relating to a "drainage situation on Scott Ct." You argue that the information is excepted from public disclosure pursuant to Government Code section 552.103. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
You explain that the information sought by the requestor relates to alleged damage to personal property occurring as a result of heavy rainfall. The requestor has asked for "anything dealing with work performed by the city" regarding the drainage situation, minutes from city council meetings where flooding or drainage was discussed, and "supporting paperwork sent to Taylor Adjustment." You explain that the responsive information includes internal memoranda and work reports that relate to the underlying occurrence and the city's maintenance of the subject area.(1) You state that these documents directly relate to claims filed by the requestor and others subsequent to the underlying occurrence.
Section 552.103(a), the "litigation exception," excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which the state is or may be a party. A governmental body has 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, and (2) the information at issue is related to that litigation. University of Tex. Law Sch. v. Texas Legal Found., 958 S.W.2d 479 (Tex. App.--Austin, 1997, no pet.); Heard v. Houston Post Co., 684 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990). The governmental body must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103(a).
Whether litigation is reasonably anticipated must be determined on a case-by-case basis. See Open Records Decision No. 452 at 4 (1986). 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). The fact that a governmental body received a claim letter that it represents to the attorney general to be in compliance with the notice requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA"), Civil Practice and Remedies Code chapter 101, or applicable municipal ordinance, shows that litigation is reasonably anticipated. See Open Records Decision No. 638 at 4 (1996). If a governmental body does not make this representation, the claim letter is a factor the attorney general will consider in determining from the totality of the circumstances presented, whether the governmental body has established that litigation is reasonably anticipated.
You have submitted a claims notice from the requestor which relates to the alleged property damage. You state that the notice of claim complies with the notice requirements of the TTCA. Having reviewed your arguments and the submitted information, we conclude that you have shown that litigation is reasonably anticipated under section 552.103 and that the information relates to the anticipated litigation. Therefore, you may withhold the requested information. We note, however, 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 and such information must be disclosed. See Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). In addition, the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation concludes. See Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and 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 thegovernmental 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 govern mental 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.
Julie Reagan Watson
Ref: ID# 137639
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Paula Leblanc
1. We note that you have not submitted the minutes of the city council meetings wherein flooding drainage was discussed. As you make no arguments against disclosure of such minutes, we assume they have been released to the requestor.
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