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July 18, 2000

Mr. Bernardo J. Garcia
Senior Assistant County Attorney
County Of Harris
1019 Congress, 15th Floor
Houston, Texas 77002

OR2000-2693

Dear Mr. Garcia:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 137356.

The Harris County Rabies/Animal Control Office (the "county") received a request for the identity of the person who reported to the county that "their life was in danger." You have provided for our review information that is responsive to the request. You assert that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the informer's privilege, and section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." The informer's privilege has been recognized by Texas courts. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969). It protects from disclosure the identities of persons who report activities over which the governmental body has criminal or quasi-criminal law-enforcement authority, provided that the subject of the information does not already know the informer's identity. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 at 3 (1988), 208 at 1-2 (1978). The informer's privilege protects the identities of individuals who report violations of statutes to the police or similar law-enforcement agencies, as well as those who report violations of statutes with civil or criminal penalties to "administrative officials having a duty of inspection or of law enforcement within their particular spheres." Open Records Decision No. 279 at 2 (1981) (citing Wigmore, Evidence, 2374, at 767 (McNaughton rev. ed. 1961)). The report must be of a violation of a criminal or civil statute. See Open Records Decision Nos. 582 at 2 (1990), 515 at 4-5 (1988).

In this instance, you represent that the submitted information contains the identity of an individual who reported to the county an alleged violation of the Rabies Control Act of 1981, which violation constitutes a class C misdemeanor. As we have no information to the contrary, we assume that the subject of the complaint does not already know the identity of the informer. Based on your representations and our review of the submitted document, we believe that you have demonstrated the applicability of the informer's privilege to the requested information. With the exception of the time and date that the complaint was received and dispatched, we agree the information you have marked reveals or tends to reveal the identity of the informer. We thus conclude that this information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the informer's privilege.(1)

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,

Michael Garbarino
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

MG/pr

Ref: ID# 137356

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Sharon Rush Davis
601 Gum Gully Road
Crosby, Texas 77532
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. As to your assertion of section 552.108 of the Government Code (the "law enforcement exception"), we note that absent a showing of special circumstances which the county has not made in this instance, section 552.108 does not except from required public disclosure information, such as the identity of a complainant, that is normally found on the front page of an offense report. See Gov't Code 552.108(c); Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976).
 

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