3rd Court of Appeals holds PIA appeal deadline for entity to challenge AG opinion is jurisdictional
San Jacinto River Authority v. Ken Paxton, 03-18-00 547-CV (Austin, Aug. 22. 2019)
This is the Public Information Act (PIA) case where the Austin Court of Appeals held an entity must file suit to appeal an AG opinion within the jurisdictional time limit.
San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) received PIA requests from McFarland and Fuchs for communications discussing a specific release of water. It submitted a request for both on the same day. The AG issued an opinion on the McFarland request opining SJRA could withhold information, but SJRA did not timely submit an opinion request regarding Fuchs and the information must be released. The opinion had language SJRA asserts was an indicated to seek reconsideration. SJRA attempted to seek a reconsideration but was told, by AG letter, the PIA does not allow such. They filed suit to appeal the decision, but it was outside the time frame for appeal of the opinion. SJRA asserted the non-reconsideration letter was the proper trigger point. The AG filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted. SJRA appealed.
The court analyzed the statutory section regarding an entities ability to file suit to challenge an AG opinion. It held filing suit within the 30 day time period was jurisdictional. The non-reconsideration letter cannot reasonably be characterized as “the decision determining that the requested information must be disclosed” because it did not make any reference to disclosure of the information. It is merely a post-decision correspondence informing SJRA it was prohibited from asking for a reconsideration. The opinion also held the separate declaratory judgment claims were redundant and no jurisdiction existed for it. SJRA asserted the AG should be estopped from using the jurisdictional arguments because it invited reconsideration, causing delay past the deadline. However, the court held estoppel cannot convey jurisdiction. Finally, regardless of SJRA’s “compelling reason” for withholding the information, the trial I court lacks jurisdiction to hear them since SJRA missed the deadline. The plea is affirmed.
If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Triana. Memorandum opinion by Justice Baker.