|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
August 16, 2000
Mr. John Steiner
Dear Mr. Steiner:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138045.
The City of Austin (the "city") received a request for information pertaining to a specific motor vehicle accident. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, 552.107, and 552.111 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, we note that the submitted documents contain an accident report form that appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code § 550.064 (officer's accident report). The Seventy-fourth Legislature amended section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. to provide for release of accident reports to a person who provides two of the following three pieces of information: (1) date of the accident; (2) name of any person involved in the accident; and (3) specific location of the accident. See Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413. Further, the Seventy-fourth Legislature also repealed and codified article 6701d as section 550.065 of the Transportation Code without substantive change. See Act of May 1, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, §§ 24, 25, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 1025, 1870-71.(1) In section 13 of Senate Bill 1069, the Seventy-fifth Legislature amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code to provide for release of accident reports under specific circumstances. Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, § 13, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4582-83 (current version at Transp. Code § 550.065). The Seventy-fifth Legislature also repealed section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. in section 16 of Senate Bill 1069. Id. § 16(b), 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4583.
However, a Travis County district court has issued a permanent injunction enjoining the enforcement of the amendment to section 550.065 of the Transportation Code enacted by section 13 of Senate Bill 1069. Texas Daily Newspaper Ass'n v. Cornyn, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., April 26, 2000). The district court has declared that the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill1069 now governs and remains unaffected by the permanent injunction. We have determined that the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1069 was section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(2)
Section 47(b)(1) of article 6701d provides that:
The Department or a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report is required to release a copy of the report on request to:
. . . .
(D) a person who provides the Department or the law enforcement agency with two or more of the following:
(i) the date of the accident;
(ii) the name of any person involved in the accident; or
(iii) the specific location of the accident[.]
V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, § 47(b)(1). See Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413.(3) Under this provision, a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report "is required to release" a copy of an accident report to a person who provides the law enforcement agency with two or more pieces of information specified by the statute. Id. In the situation at hand, the requestor has provided the city with the date of the accident, the names of persons involved in the accident, and the specific location of the accident. Thus, the city is required to release the accident report under section 47(b)(1) of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.
Next, we note that the submitted documents also contain documents that appear to have been filed with a court. Documents filed with a court are generally considered public. See Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54, 57 (Tex. 1992). Moreover, section 552.022(a)(17) requires the release of information that is also contained in a public court document. Gov't Code § 552.022(a)(17). Thus, the city must release to the requestor all documents that have been filed with a court.
In regard to the remainder of the submitted information, we turn to your claim under section 552.103 of the Government Code. Section 552.103(a) excepts from disclosure information relating to litigation to which a governmental body is or may be a party. The governmental body has the burden of providing relevant facts and documents to show that section 552.103(a) is applicable in a particular situation. In order to meet this burden, the governmental body must show that (1) litigation has been pending or reasonably anticipated since the date of receipt of the request, 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, 212 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Open Records Decision No. 551 at 4 (1990); Gov't Code § 552.103. The governmental body must meet both prongs of this test for information to be excepted under section 552.103.
In Open Records Decision No. 638 (1996), this office stated that a governmental body may demonstrate that it reasonably anticipates litigation if it receives a notice of claim letter and represents to this office that the letter is in compliance with the requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act, Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code ch. 101, or an applicable municipal ordinance or statute. The city received a notice of claim from an attorney representing an individual, and the individual's spouse, who was seriously injured in the motor vehicle accident that is the subject of the request. You state that the notice of claim letter meets the notice requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act. The notice of claim letter alleges that the accident was caused by the negligence of a city employee and claims damages for which the city is allegedly liable. Based on these facts, we conclude that the city reasonably anticipates litigation relating to this incident. Moreover, the submitted documents relate to the reasonably anticipated litigation. Thus, section 552.103 applies to the submitted information with the exception of the accident report and any information filed with a court as discussed above.
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. Open Records Decision Nos. 349 (1982), 320 (1982). In addition, the applicability of section 552.103(a) ends once the litigation concludes. Attorney General Opinion MW-575 (1982); Open Records Decision No. 350 (1982).
In conclusion, the city must release the submitted accident report to the requestor pursuant to section 47(b)(1) of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. The city must also release any information filed with a court under section 552.022(a)(17). Finally, city may generally withhold the remaining information under section 552.103 to the extent it has not been obtained by the opposing party.(4)
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.
E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Ref: ID# 138045
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Keith Taniguchi
1. Because the repeal of a statute by a code does not affect an amendment of the statute by the same legislature which enacted the code, the amendment of section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. is preserved and given effect as part of the code provision. See Gov't Code § 311.031(c). In 1997, the Seventy-fifth Legislature enacted Senate Bill 898 and amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code to conform to section 47 of article 6701d as enacted by the Seventy-fourth Legislature and repealed article 6701d. See Act of May 8, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, § 30.125, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 327, 648-49.
2. Although the Seventy-fifth Legislature enacted Senate Bill 898 prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1069, Senate Bill 898 was not effective until September 1, 1997. See Act of May 8, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, § 33.01, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 327, 712. Further, Senate Bill 1069 expressly provides that to the extent of any conflict, Senate Bill 1069 prevails over another Act of the Seventy-fifth Legislature. See Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, § 16(c), 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4583. If irreconcilable amendments are enacted at the same session of the legislature, the latest in date prevails. Gov't Code § 311.025(b). Because Senate Bill 898 was never effective and later amendments prevail, we conclude that section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. was the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1069 regarding the availability of accident report information rather than section 550.065 as amended by Senate Bill 898.
3. We note that the text of amended section 47 of article 6701d is not found in Vernon's Revised Civil Statutes or in the Transportation Code. However, section 47 of article 6701d is published in the 1995 General and Special Laws of the 1995 Legislature at chapter 894, section 1.
4. Because section 552.103 is dispositive of this matter, we do not address your other arguments.
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