Amarillo Court of Appeals overrules AG opinion and holds civil service video examinations are excepted from public disclosure under collective bargaining agreement

Captain Edwin Scott Hilburn v. The City of Houston, Texas; and Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas 07-15-00158-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, January 21, 2016).

This is a Public Information Act (“PIA”) case involving promotional examination documentation.

The City conducted the Houston Fire Department Senior Captain examination. Included within this examination, for the first time, were two new exercises: the Subordinate/Organizational Problem Exercise (SP) and the Oral Tactical Exercise (OT).  The SP and OT exercises were video recorded and reviewed by anonymous assessors.  The City received a PIA request for various information, including the SP and OT videos. After going through the administrative process, the AG determined some of the testing information was subject to release. The City filed suit under PIA to withhold the information. Hilburn intervened.  The City and Hilburn filed opposing summary judgments. The trial court granted the City’s motion and denied Hilburn’s.

The court first determined the  City complied with Tex. Gov’t Code §552.3221 allowing the filing of responsive documents in cameria.  It also noted that such filing is permissive, not mandatory, so failing to follow this provision does not equate to a waiver of arguments. The court then determined the City properly raised §552.101 exception and did not waive any arguments. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §174.006 states the City’s collective bargaining agreement supersedes the civil service statute.  The City’s collective bargaining agreement specifically noted that video exams were permitted, therefore Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §143.032 (which makes it a criminal offense to knowingly or intentionally reveal part of a promotional examination) was properly raised.  The court then held that properly raising the exceptions does not automatically equate to entitlement. The court then held that even though the AG determined the video portions were not a “written” exam entitled to protection, the record clearly indicates video exams were intended to be confidential under the collective bargaining agreement. Further, §552.122 makes test questions developed by a licensing agency excepted. However, the assessor’s names do not fall under any of the designated exceptions to disclosure, so neither do the rating forms. So, in the end, the questions and videos were excepted, the rating forms of anonymous assessors were not.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Campbell, Justice Hancock and Justice Pirtle.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Hancock. The attorney for the City is listed as Robert W. Higgason.  The attorney listed for the AG is Kimberly Fuchs.  The attorney listed for Hilburn is Barbara A. Hilburn