All records “relating to” auto-accidents resulting in injury, not just accident report, are privileged under PIA says Austin Court of Appeals

The City of San Antonio v. Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General, 03-11-00668-CV (Tex. App. -Austin, April 10, 2014)

This is a Public Information Act case where the City of San Antonio withheld information contained within its call-for-service and dispatch logs as privileged.  The Texas Attorney General (“AG”) opined the records must be released and the City appealed. The Austin Court of Appeals agreed with the City and held the records could be withheld.

The City asserted that it’s call-for-service logs relating to motor vehicle accident reports were excepted from disclosure under Tex. Transp. Code § 550.065 (relating to releasing accident information only under certain circumstances and required redactions). Section 550.065 provides that information that “relates to a motor vehicle accident reported under . . . [C]hapter [550]” is privileged and for the confidential use by the City.  Chapter 550 reports are required when an accident resulted in injury to or the death of a person or damage to the property of any one person to the apparent extent of $ 1,000 or more. The City may release the report if a requestor can provide two of three sets of information which only a party to the accident should know. It is undisputed that the requestor, the Texas Weekly Advocate, did not provide two of the three required pieces of information instead seeking information about all accidents or all calls for service on a given day. The requested call-for-service and dispatch logs contain two of the pieces of information required.  The AG opined that the exception to disclosure applies only to the accident report itself and not information that may simply relate to it, such as dispatch logs. The City appealed the opinion to District Court which agreed with the AG. The City appealed.

The Austin Court of Appeals held the Legislature’s use of the phrase, “information that . . . relates to a motor vehicle accident” reported under Chapter 550 , has the effect of broadening the scope of Section 550.065 to render more than the actual accident reports confidential. In this case, the City provided evidence at trial that when an accident is one which is required to be reported under Chapter 550, the report is linked within the City’s computer system with all other data gathered, including the initial call for service.  As a result, all of the link information “relates to” the accident and is confidential. The trial court erred in ordering its release so the Austin Court reversed and rendered.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here. Panel: Justice Puryear, Justic Goodwin and Justice Field. Opinion by Justice Puryear. The attorney listed for the City is Shawn Fitzpatrick. The attorney listed for the AG is Kimberly Fuchs.