City of Carrollton v. Paxton
|31 March 2016
|490 S.W.3d 187
|The City of Carrollton, Appellant v. Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, Appellee
|Texas Court of Appeals
Scott M. Tschirhart, George E. Hyde, Lauren Crawford, Denton, Navarro, Rocha, Bernal, Hyde & Zech, Austin, TX, for Appellant.
Matthew R. Entsminger, Open Records Litigation, Administrative Law Division, Austin, TX, for Appellee.
Before Chief Justice Rose and Justice Pemberton
The City of Carrollton appeals a final summary judgment compelling it to disclose certain information requested under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA)2 and awarding attorney's fees against it. The City urges principally that the information in question is protected as a matter of law by the “law-enforcement” exception that is codified in PIA Section 552.0083 or, alternatively, by the common-law “physical-safety exception” that has been recognized in recent years by the Texas Supreme Court.4 On this record, we agree that substantial portions of the information at issue are protected by the law-enforcement exception as a matter of law and, to that extent, reverse the district court's judgment and render judgment declaring that the City may withhold the information. As for the remaining information, however, we affirm the district court's judgment. Additionally, in light of these holdings, we reverse the judgment award of attorney's fees and remand that issue to the district court for further proceedings.
This cause stems from a succession of ten PIA requests, made to the City over a period of approximately four months, by Steven Eric Benzer, a resident whose history of demands on Carrollton municipal resources is well-known.5 Each of Benzer's ten requests sought information relating to specific occasions of City police activity in Benzer's neighborhood, including police responses to several calls for service that Benzer himself had initiated. In response to each request, the City timely sought a determination from the Attorney General that portions of the responsive information were either or both exempted from mandatory disclosure via Subchapter C of the PIA6 or were made confidential by external law.7 As pertinent to this appeal, the information sought to be withheld chiefly included notes generated within a Computer–Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that the City's police department utilizes. Simply described, a CAD system provides an automated interface between 911 operators or dispatchers and various record-management systems,8 compiling information about the caller, the origination location and time of the call, the nature and assigned priority of the call, and information in the system about a person (e.g., “history, protection orders, warrants, mental or health issues, gang information, sex offender registry information, [and] vehicle information”).9 The “CAD notes” at issue reflected these compilations of information as well as a time-stamped log detailing the sequence in which the information was received and the manner in which the police department responded to it.
There is no dispute that the CAD notes in question would constitute “public information” within the PIA's broad definition10 and that many of the notes would additionally be “a completed report, ... evaluation, or investigation made of, for, or by a governmental body,” one of the categories of so-called “super-public” information that PIA Section 552.022 generally makes subject to disclosure, notwithstanding the exemptions in Subchapter C, “unless made confidential under this chapter [the PIA] or other law.”11 However, the Legislature has notably excepted from this mandate information that is exempted from disclosure by the law-enforcement exception in PIA Section 552.108,12 meaning that Section 552.108 empowers governmental bodies to withhold both ordinary “public information” and completed reports, evaluations, or investigations that would otherwise be subject to “super-public” disclosure under Section 552.022. The City invoked Section 552.108 in response to all ten of Benzer's requests.
In pertinent part, Section 552.108 applies to:
However, Subsection (c) of Section 552.108 qualifies the protection provided in Subsections (a) and (b) to the following extent:
(c) This section does not except from the requirements of Section 552.021 [i.e., PIA mandatory disclosure] information that is basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime.14
With respect to nine of Benzer's ten requests, the Attorney General agreed with the City that the information at issue would satisfy Subsections (a)(1), (a)(2), or (b)(2) of the law-enforcement exception.15 However, the Attorney General also concluded that significant portions of this otherwise-protected information was “basic information” subject to disclosure under Subsection (c). As for the tenth request (addressed in Tex. Att'y Gen. OR2012–11115
), the Attorney General determined that the City had failed to demonstrate the applicability of the law-enforcement exception because, he reasoned, the City had made “contradictory representations” in attempting to invoke two “mutually exclusive” Subsections of Section 552.108:(a)(1) (), and (b)(2) (“[a]n internal record or notion or a law enforcement agency ... if ... the internal record or notation relates to law enforcement only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication”).16
The City had also asserted that some of the information at issue was made confidential under the common law, and thus was also excepted from disclosure by PIA Section 552.101
,17 by virtue of either or both the “informer's privilege”18 and the “physical-safety exception” recognized by the Texas Supreme Court in the
case.19 Agreeing that four of the requests implicated information protected by the informer's privilege, the Attorney General determined that the City could redact a limited amount of information that tended to identify complainants other than Benzer who had summoned police assistance.20
The City filed suit in Travis County district court to contest disclosure,21 praying further for attorney's fees as the PIA permits.22 It subsequently filed a “traditional” motion for summary judgment on its claims. The Attorney General responded with a “traditional” cross-motion for summary judgment that the City take nothing and that he be awarded his attorney's fees instead. The cross-motions joined issue as to the following:
The summary-judgment evidence consisted of the information the City sought to withhold and related correspondence, which was submitted in camera t o the district court, and an attorney's-fees affidavit submitted by the Attorney General. Further, in support of its claims to the physical-safety exception, the City also presented documents from previous criminal proceedings involving Benzer. These documents reflected that Benzer had been criminally sanctioned—including incarceration that had concluded shortly before he had initiated the succession of PIA requests at issue—based on judicial determinations that he had engaged in violent, threatening, and retributory behavior toward various neighbors. Benzer did not exercise his right to intervene in the proceedings.24
Following a hearing, the district court denied the City's summary-judgment motion and granted the Attorney General's motion, declaring specifically that “basic information within a requested computer-aided dispatch (CAD) report is not excepted from disclosure by section 552.108 of the Government Code
” and that the City had “failed to demonstrate that any portion of the information at issue is excepted from disclosure...
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