Under PIA common-law privacy only applies to a person’s private affairs, not events related to discrimination charges

Stetson Roane v. Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas; and Seguin Independent School District, 14-18-00264-CV, (Tex App – Hou [14th dist.], Jan 28, 2020)

This is a Public Information Act (“PIA”) lawsuit where the Fourteenth Court of Appeals agreed with the Attorney General that certain records must be released.

Roane served as superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District (“the District”) who had a sexual harassment charge filed against him.  After he had left the District, it received several PIA requests which included information on the complaint. Roane was notified he could file a third-party objection, which he did asserting common law privacy to withhold the information. While the Attorney General (“AG”) allowed the District to withhold other responsive information, it opined the complaint information was subject to release. Roane filed suit to prevent the release and filed a motion for summary judgment. The AG also filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the AG’s motion and denied Roane’s motion. Roane appealed.

The common-law right to privacy protects information from disclosure when “(1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is not of legitimate concern to the public.” However, the highly intimate or embarrassing facts must be “about a person’s private affairs.”  The summary judgment record failed to demonstrate that the information involved matters relating to Roane’s “private affairs.” Matters of workplace harassment, discrimination, and policy violations in a governmental body are, by their very nature, generally do not qualify. The court noted the complainant’s name and other individuals’ names have been redacted from the information ordered to be disclosed by the AG’s opinion.  As a result, all that remains are public matters. Therefore, the trial court ruled properly regarding the competing motions.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Wise, Zimmerer, and Spain. Affirmed. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Zimmerer. Docket page with attorney information found here.

Leave a Reply