|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
November 8, 2000
Ms. Lou Bright
Dear Ms. Lou Bright:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 141060.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (the "commission") received two requests for copies of an investigation into the death of a named individual in an automobile accident. You have released the majority of the report, but claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.130 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
You have submitted to this office responsive information labeled Attachments C and D. Attachment C appears to be the response of the treating hospital to a subpoena obtained by the Brazos County District Attorney. You assert that Attachment C is excepted from public disclosure in its entirety by section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with section 159.002 of the Occupations Code. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by other statutes. Access to medical records is governed by the Medical Practice Act (the "MPA"), subtitle B, title 3 of the Occupations Code. Section 159.002 of the MPA provides:
(b) A record of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician that is created or maintained by a physician is confidential and privileged and may not be disclosed except as provided by this chapter.
(c) A person who receives information from a confidential communication or record as described by this chapter, other than a person listed in Section 159.004 who is acting on the patient's behalf, may not disclose the information except to the extent that disclosure is consistent with the authorized purposes for which the information was first obtained.
The medical records must be released upon the patient's signed, written consent, provided that the consent specifies (1) the information to be covered by the release, (2) reasons or purposes for the release, and (3) the person to whom the information is to be released. Occ. Code §§ 159.004, .005. Section 159.002(c) also requires that any subsequent release of medical records be consistent with the purposes for which the governmental body obtained the records. Open Records Decision No. 565 at 7 (1990). Medical records may be released only as provided under the MPA. Open Records Decision No. 598 (1991). The commission may not release the medical records to the requestor. Two pages of Attachment C are not medical records. As you have not raised any exception to required disclosure for those documents, those two pages must be released.
You have redacted Texas driver's license numbers from the released copy of Attachment D. Section 552.130 of the Government Code governs the release and use of information obtained from motor vehicle records, and provides in relevant part as follows:
(a) Information is excepted from [required public disclosure] if the information relates to:
(1) a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state; [or]
(2) a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state[.]
You must withhold the Texas driver's license numbers you have marked and the license plate number pursuant to section 552.130.
Attachment D also contains social security numbers. Social security numbers may be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 of the Government Code. A social security number or "related record" may be excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). These amendments make confidential social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. We have no basis for concluding that any of the social security numbers in the file are confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), and therefore excepted from public disclosure under section 552.101 on the basis of that federal provision. We caution, however, that section 552.352 of the Public Information Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing any social security number information, you should ensure that no such information was obtained or is maintained by the commission pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
In summary, the commission must release the portions of Attachment C that are not medical records but must withhold the remainder of that attachment under section 552.101 in conjunction with section 159.002 of the Occupations Code. The commission must redact the marked Texas driver's license numbers and license plate number from Attachment D under section 552.130. The commission may be required to withhold the social security numbers from Attachment D but must release the remainder of that attachment to the requestor.
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.
Patricia Michels Anderson
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. And Mrs. Kearins
cc: Mr. Khris Thurmond
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US