Response to PIA requests from inmates is discretionary, so mandamus is improper

Robert Brown, III v City of Austin, 03-19-00035-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, August 29, 2019).

This is a Public Information Act (PIA) case where the Austin Court of Appeals dismissed a petition for writ of mandamus to compel production of two police reports.

Brown was arrested and subsequently filed a PIA request for the offense report involving his incident and an offense report allegedly committed by a third-party the year before his incident. When the City did not provide the report he filed a petition for writ of mandamus. Brown was an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice when he filed his petition and remains incarcerated. The City answered the lawsuit and then filed a chapter 14 motion to dismiss, which was granted by the trial court. Brown appealed.

The PIA affords governmental bodies discretion in determining whether to comply with information requests of inmates. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.028.  Because a governmental body’s disclosure of information requested by an inmate is discretionary—rather than a ministerial act—mandamus will not issue to compel the act, and Brown has no arguable basis in law to support his claim. Brown claims the City is nonetheless required to provide the reports under Tex. Fam. Code § 261.201(g) and (k) (family violence statute). However, subsection (g) only applies to PIAs filed with the Department of Family and Protective Services.  Subsection (k) allows a “parent, managing conservator, or other legal representative of a child” to obtain requested reports of abuse or neglect of that child from an investigating agency.   While Brown asserts he is the “soon to be step-father”, Brown has not alleged any facts supporting his status as a parent or managing conservator as those terms are defined in the Family Code.  As a result, his mandamus has no basis in the law and the motion to dismiss was proper.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of  Justices Goodwin, Baker and Kelly. Opinion by Justice Baker.