Click for home page Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
John Cornyn
image
 

July 26, 2000

Mr. Renaldo Stowers
Associate General Counsel
University of North Texas
P.O. Box 310907
Denton, Texas 76203-0907

OR2000-2822

Dear Mr. Stowers:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 136926.

The University of North Texas (the "university") received a request for information regarding all disputes brought before the university's mediation committee within the past six months. Specifically, the requestor seeks for each dispute: the cause number, the court or entity that referred the case, the type of case, the issue for mediation, the amount in controversy, and the final resolution. By subsequent letter to this office, the requestor advised that she only seeks "information in regard to how many mediations, the type of case, and the amount in controversy." You state that the university will disclose the number of mediations conducted by the university's Dispute Resolution System. However, you claim that the remainder of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted representative sample of the information at issue.(1)

Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information made confidential by other statutes such as section 154.073 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Section 154.073 states in pertinent part:

(a) Except as provided by Subsections (c), (d), and (e),(2) a communication relating to the subject matter of any civil or criminal dispute made by a participant in an alternative dispute resolution procedure, whether before or after the institution of formal judicial proceedings, is confidential, is not subject to disclosure, and may not be used as evidence against the participant in any judicial or administrative proceeding.

(b) Any record made at an alternative dispute resolution procedure is confidential, and the participants or the third party facilitating the procedure may not be required to testify in any proceedings relating to or arising out of the matter in dispute or be subject to process requiring disclosure of confidential information or data relating to or arising out of the matter in dispute.

Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 154.073(a), (b). You explain that the university operates the nonprofit Dispute Resolution System of Denton County, Texas ("DRS"), which, among other things, offers dispute resolution services to the general public. Accordingly, the DRS is a "dispute resolution organization" under section 154.001 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Moreover, the mediation services offered by DRS are recognized as an alternative dispute resolution procedure under section 154.023. See Open Records Decision No. 659 at 3 (1999). We have reviewed the submitted representative sample and find that it contains information or data relating to or arising out of matters in dispute in connection with dispute resolution procedures. Accordingly, the university must withhold the information represented by the submitted sample.(3)

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,

E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

EJF\ljp

Ref: ID# 136926

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. C. Jane Thacker
(940) 566-6673
513 West Oak
Denton, Texas 76201
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. The submitted "representative sample" consists of records relating to specific dispute resolution matters. We assume that these submitted documents are truly representative of all of the information at issue. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach and, therefore, does not authorize the withholding of any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than those submitted to this office.

2. Subsections 154.073(c), (d), and (e) are inapplicable in this instance.

3. Because section 552.101 of the Government Code, in conjunction with section 154.073 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, is dispositive of this matter, we do not address the other arguments that you raise in conjunction with section 552.101.
 

POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US
An Equal Employment Opportunity Employer


Home | ORLs