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October 30, 2000

Ms. Pamela Smith
Assistant General Counsel
Texas Department of Public Safety
5805 North Lamar Boulevard
P.O. Box 4087
Austin, Texas 78773-0001

OR2000-4203

Dear Ms. Smith:

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 # 141659.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (the "department") received a request for information relating to a specified traffic accident. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.103 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.

Initially, we note that the submitted information contains a peace officer's accident report that appears to have been prepared pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code 550.064 (officer's accident report). Access to an accident report is governed by law outside the Public Information Act. The Seventy-fourth Legislature amended section 47 of article 6701d, Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes, to provide for the release of an accident report to a person who provides two of the following three items of information: (1) the date of the accident, (2) the name of any person involved in the accident, and (3) the specific location of the accident. See Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413, 4414. In other legislation, the Seventy-fourth Legislature repealed and codified article 6701d as section 550.065 of the Transportation Code without substantive change.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 No. 1069, the Seventy-fifth Legislature amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code to provide for release of accident reports under specific circumstances. See 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). That same legislation also repealed section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. See id. 16(b), 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4583. However, a Travis County district court has issued a permanent injunction precluding the enforcement of the amendment of section 550.065 of the Transportation Code that was enacted by section 13 of Senate Bill No. 1069. See Texas Daily Newspaper Ass'n v. Cornyn, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., April 26, 2000). The district court has determined that the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill No. 1069 now governs and remains unaffected by the permanent injunction. We have determined that the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill No. 1069 was section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(2)

Subsection (a) of section 47 provides that "[e]xcept as provided by Subsection (b) of this section, all accident reports . . . [are] privileged and for the confidential use of the Department [of Public Safety] and agencies . . . having use for the records for accident prevention purposes." V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, 47(a). Subsection (b) of section 47 provides in relevant part:

(1) 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)(D); see Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413.(3) Under section 47(b)(1)(D), a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report is required to release a copy of the report to a person who provides the law enforcement agency with at least two of the three specified items of information. In this instance, the requestor has supplied two of the three required items of information. Therefore, the department must release the accident report.

Section 552.108 of the Government Code, the "law enforcement exception," provides in relevant part that "[i]nformation held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from [required public disclosure] if release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime[.]" Gov't Code 552.108(a)(1). A governmental body claiming an exception to disclosure under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the responsive information does not do so on its face, how and why section 552.108 is applicable. See Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977); Open Records Decision No. 434 at 2-3 (1986). You inform us that the requested information pertains to a pending criminal case. Based on your representations and our review of the information in question, we find that its release would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. See Gov't Code 552.108(a)(1); 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) (court delineates law enforcement interests that are present in active cases).

We note, however, that section 552.108 does not except from public disclosure "basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime." Gov't Code 552.108(c). The department must release the kind of information that is considered to be basic front-page offense and arrest report information, including a detailed description of the offense, even if that information does not actually appear on the front page of the report. See Houston Chronicle, 531 S.W.2d at 186-87; Open Records Decision No. 127 at 3-4 (1976) (summarizing the types of information deemed public by Houston Chronicle). The department may withhold the rest of the requested information, with the exception of the accident report, under section 552.108(a)(1). As we are able to make a determination under section 552.108, we need not consider your claim under section 552.103.(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).

Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497

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,


James W. Morris, III
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JWM/seg

Ref: ID# 141659

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Sharla Ellis
Fletcher & Springer, L.L.P.
823 Congress Avenue, Suite 510
Austin, Texas 78701
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

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4. We note, however, that a successful claim under section 552.103 generally does not except from disclosure the same basic information that must be released under section 552.108(c). See Open Records Decision Nos. 597 (1991), 362 (1983).
 

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