The government is refusing to give me public information. What can I do?

by | Dec 28, 2021 | Public Information Act Requests | 0 comments

Under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA), governmental bodies in Texas are obligated to “promptly produce public information” upon request. When they don’t, the requestor can file an informal complaint with the Texas Attorney General. The requestor also has certain civil remedies under the TPIA, including the right to file a suit for writ of mandamus compelling the governmental body to produce the requested information. A “substantially prevail[ing]” plaintiff is entitled to recover their attorney’s fees.  

Violations of the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) are subject to both civil enforcement and criminal prosecution. We discuss the TPIA’s criminal penalties in another blog post—Are there criminal penalties for violating the Texas Public Information Act? This blog will focus on the TPIA’s civil enforcement mechanisms.

Informal resolution of complaints

If a governmental body fails to provide you with public information, fails to request an attorney general ruling within 10 business days of your request, fails to comply with an attorney general ruling, or is overcharging for public information, you may file a written complaint with the Open Records Division of the Office of the Attorney General.

Writ of Mandamus

Section 552.321 of the TPIA authorizes a requestor to file a suit for a writ of mandamus to compel a governmental body to release requested information if the governmental body refuses to seek an attorney general decision, refuses to release public information, or if the governmental body refuses to release information in accordance with an attorney general decision.[1]

A requestor can file a mandamus action regardless of whether an attorney general decision has been requested.[2] And a requestor can file a mandamus suit even if the attorney general has ruled that the requested information is not subject to required public disclosure.[3]

Declaratory Judgment or Injunctive Relief

Section 552.3215 of the TPIA authorizes a suit for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief against a governmental body that violates the TPIA—notably, however, the suit must be filed by a local prosecutor or the attorney general.[4]

Before a suit for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief may be filed, a person must first file a complaint with the district or county attorney of the county in which the governmental body is located (unless the governmental body is the district or county attorney—in which case, the complaint should be filed with the attorney general). The district or county attorney receiving a complaint must, before the 31st day after the complaint was filed, determine whether the alleged violation was committed, determine whether an action will be brought under the section, and notify the complainant in writing of those determinations.

If the county or district attorney decides not to bring an action in response to a complaint filed with that office, the complainant may, before the 31st day after the complaint is returned, file the complaint with the attorney general. On receipt of the complaint, the attorney general within the same time frame must make the determinations and notification required of a district or county attorney.

Recovery of attorney’s fees

A trial court “shall” (must) assess reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to “a plaintiff who substantially prevails” in a suit for writ of mandamus under section 552.321 or a suit for declaratory or injunctive relief under section 552.3215 of the TPIA.[5]

However, a court may not assess those costs and fees against a governmental body if the court finds that the governmental body acted in reasonable reliance on:

  • a judgment or an order of a court applicable to the governmental body;
  • the published opinion of an appellate court; or
  • a written decision of the attorney general.

To “substantially prevail” requires “an enforceable judgment against the defendant from whom fees are sought, or comparable relief through a consent decree or settlement.”[6]

Several courts of appeals in Texas have held that a requestor whose claim is rendered moot by the voluntary production of documents by a governmental body does not “substantially prevail” under the TPIA and thus cannot recover attorney’s fees.

A requestor who is an attorney representing himself in a suit to require a governmental body to disclose requested information under the TPIA is not entitled to attorney’s fees.[7]

Cobb & Counsel has significant experience in litigating open government issues. If you are involved in a dispute regarding the release of government records under the Texas Public Information Act, contact us to discuss your options.

Questions about the Texas Public Information Act? Check out our blog archive.


[1] Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.321.

[2] Thomas v. Cornyn, 71 S.W.3d 473, 483 (Tex. App.—Austin 2002, no pet.); Tex. Dep’t of Pub. Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.—Austin 1992, no writ).

[3] Thomas v. Cornyn, 71 S.W.3d 473, 483 (Tex. App.—Austin 2002, no pet.); Tex. Dep’t of Pub. Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.—Austin 1992, no writ).

[4] Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.3215.

[5] Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.323(a).

[6] Tex. State Bd. of Veterinary Med. Examiners v. Giggleman, 408 S.W.3d 696, 703 (Tex. App.—Austin 2013, no pet.) (internal quotation omitted).

[7] Jackson v. State Office of Admin. Hearings, 351 S.W.3d 290, 300 (Tex. 2011).

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