Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 419TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT
NO. D-1-GN-14-005065, HONORABLE RHONDA HURLEY, JUDGE
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Pemberton and Bourland
Rose, Chief Justice
Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) brought a
declaratory action against the Attorney General in connection
with a request for public information regarding
healthcare-service providers' Medicaid claims for
reimbursement. HHSC asserts that such information is
confidential by law, and thus not subject to disclosure under
the Texas Public Information Act (PIA), because the Human
Resources Code prohibits the disclosure of "the names
of, or any information concerning, persons applying for or
receiving [Medicaid] assistance." Tex. Human Res. Code
§ 12.003(a); see Tex. Gov't Code
§§ 552.022 (providing mandatory disclosure for
certain categories of documents unless they are
"expressly confidential under other law"), .101
(exemption to disclosure for confidential information); .352
(offense for distribution or misuse of confidential
information). The Attorney General argues that the requested
information is not confidential because it does not identify
the individuals from whose claims the information is derived
and, thus, is not "any information concerning"
Medicaid applicants or recipients. Considering competing
motions for summary judgment, the trial court determined that
the requested information is protected from disclosure and
granted summary judgment in favor of HHSC. The Attorney
General appeals. We will reverse the district court's
summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
charged with supervising the administration and operation of
the Texas Medicaid program. See Tex. Gov't Code
§§ 531.0055(b)(1), .021. In August 2014, HHSC
received a public-information request for certain information
derived from Medicaid reimbursement claims submitted to HHSC
by healthcare providers during the calendar years 2012, 2013,
and the first six months of 2014. The specific Medicaid-claim
information requested was "date of service; procedure
code; claim status; billed amount; paid amount; provider
name; provider National Provider Identifier; provider masked
Texas Provider Identifier; provider type code; provider
specialty code; provider county code; provider zip code; and
that the request sought "information concerning"
Medicaid recipients, and thus was confidential information
under the Human Resources Code, HHSC refused to release the
information and instead sought a letter ruling from the
Attorney General regarding HHSC's disclosure obligations
under the PIA. See Tex. Hum. Res. Code §§
12.003(a) (prohibiting use or disclosure of "names, or
any information concerning, " Medicaid applicants or
recipients), 21.012(a)(1) (requiring HHSC to "restrict
the use or disclosure of information concerning"
Medicaid applicants and recipients), Tex. Gov't Code
§ 552.301(a) (directing governmental body seeking to
withhold information to request Attorney General ruling). The
Attorney General's Open Records Division determined that
the Medicaid claim numbers are confidential under section
12.003 and, thus, must be withheld under the PIA's
exception to disclosure for information made confidential by
law, but that the remaining requested information is public
information subject to disclosure under the PIA because it
does not identify the Medicaid recipients. See Tex.
Att'y Gen. OR2014-20095, at 2 (determining that the
requested information "consists of identifying
information of providers rather than Medicaid
filed suit in Travis County District Court, seeking relief
from compliance with the Attorney General's decision via
declaratory judgment that the requested information was
confidential under section 12.003 of the Human Resources
Code. See Tex. Gov't Code § 552.324
(authorizing declaratory action by governmental body to
withhold information). Both parties filed cross motions for
summary judgment, joining issue on the interpretation of
section 12.003 as it relates to the requested information.
The Attorney General contended that section 12.003 should be
interpreted narrowly to protect only information that
identifies Medicaid recipients or applicants. HHSC argued for
a broader interpretation under which the requested
information is confidential because it is "information
concerning" Medicaid recipients. The trial court
"determine[d] that the information at issue is protected
from disclosure by section 552.101 of the Texas Government
Code, " granted HHSC's summary-judgment motion, and
denied the Attorney General's cross-motion.
Attorney General challenges the district court's judgment
in one issue, asserting that the requested information at
issue here is not confidential, and thus not excepted from
required public disclosure under the PIA, because the
information is not "concerning" individual
information regarding Medicaid applicants or recipients. More
specifically, the Attorney General maintains that, while
Human Resources Code section 12.003 "clearly expresses a
legislative intent to encompass the broadest range of
individual client information, " Tex. Att'y Gen.
OR2014-20095, at 2, the requested information here is not
information that involves the personal interests of Medicaid
applicants and recipients, but rather data relating to
healthcare service providers and provider claims for
begin our analysis of this issue with a general review of the
PIA's provisions and policies. The PIA explicitly
instructs our inquiry here, emphasizing the fundamental
policy of this State that "government is the servant and
not the master of the people, " and that the people of
Texas, "in delegating authority, do not give their
public servants the right to decide what is good for the
people to know and what is not good for them to know."
The PIA insists that citizens "remain informed so that
they may retain control over the instruments they have
created, " therefore, Texans are entitled "to
complete information about the affairs of government and the
official acts of public officials and employees." Tex.
Gov't Code § 552.001(a); see Jackson v. State
Office of Admin. Hearings, 351 S.W.3d 290, 293 (Tex.
2011). To advance these policy goals, the Legislature has
directed that courts "liberally construe" the PIA
in favor of open disclosure of requested information.
See Tex. Gov't Code § 552.001 ("This
chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a
request for information."). The necessary corollary to
this directive is that exceptions to disclosure must be
construed narrowly. Texas State Bd. of Chiropractic
Exam'rs v. Abbott, 391 S.W.3d 343, 347 (Tex.
App.-Austin 2013, no pet.) ("Exceptions to the
disclosure requirement of the PIA are narrowly
construed." (citing Arlington Indep. Sch. Dist. v.
Texas Att'y General, 37 S.W.3d 152, 157 (Tex.
App.-Austin 2001, no pet.)).
keeping with its fundamental purpose of promoting
transparency in government, the PIA's key provisions
obligate the government, stated generally, to make public
information reasonably available to whomever properly makes a
request. See Austin Bulldog v. Leffingwell, 490
S.W.3d 240, 244-45 (Tex. App.-Austin 2016, no pet.)
(describing PIA process). Only if the requested public
information falls under one of the PIA's specific
exceptions to disclosure or, at issue here, if the public
information is made "confidential by law, either
constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision, "
can the governmental body avoid disclosure. See Tex.
Gov't Code § 552.101; Austin Bulldog, 490
S.W.3d at 244-45.
seeks to withhold the information requested here under the
PIA's confidential-by-law exception to disclosure.
See Tex. Gov't Code §§ 552.101
(exemption for confidential information), .022 (providing
mandatory disclosure for certain categories of documents
unless they are "expressly confidential under other
law"), .352 (offense for distribution or misuse of
confidential information). HHSC contends that the requested
information at issue here is confidential because the Human
Resources Code prohibits disclosure of "information
concerning persons applying for or receiving [Medicaid]
assistance." Tex. Hum. Res. Code § 12.003; see
In re City of Georgetown, 53 S.W.3d 328, 334 (Tex. 2001)
(holding that information is "confidential" if
statute or rule prohibits its disclosure). The Attorney
General asserts that section 12.003 makes confidential only
information that is individual to or that identifies Medicaid
recipients or applicants. Resolving this issue, then,
presents us with a matter of statutory construction, a
question of law that we review de novo. See State v.
Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 284 (Tex. 2006).
Texas Supreme Court has emphasized repeatedly, our
"primary objective" in statutory construction
"is to determine the Legislature's intent which,
when possible, we discern from the plain meaning of the words
chosen." Traxler v. Entergy Gulf States, Inc.,
376 S.W.3d 742, 747 (Tex. 2012); see, e.g.,
Southwest Royalties, Inc. v. Hegar, 500 S.W.3d 400,
404 (Tex. 2016) ("Our primary objective is to give
effect to the Legislature's intent, which we ascertain
from the plain meaning of the words used in the statute, if
possible."); TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. v.
Combs, 340 S.W.3d 432, 439 (Tex. 2011) ("When
construing a statute, our primary objective is to ascertain
and give effect to the Legislature's intent. . . . To
discern that intent, we begin with the statute's
words."). We must read words and phrases "in
context" and construe them "according to the rules
of grammar and common usage." Tex. Gov't Code §
311.011(a). "Language cannot be interpreted apart from
context. The meaning of a word that appears ambiguous when
viewed in isolation may become clear when the word is
analyzed in light of the terms that surround it."
TGS-NOPEC, 340 S.W.3d at 441.
of section 12.003
analysis of the parties' statutory-construction arguments
turns upon the language of Human Resources Code section
12.003(a), which provides in relevant part:
Except for purposes directly connected with the
administration of [Medicaid] programs . . ., it is an offense
for a person to . . . disclose . . . or to authorize . . .
the use of the names of, or any information concerning,
persons applying for or receiving [Medicaid] assistance
if the information is directly or indirectly derived from the
records, papers, files, or communications of [HHSC] or
acquired by employees of [HHSC] in the performance of their
Tex. Hum. Res. Code § 12.003(a) (emphasis added).
Because there is no dispute that the un-emphasized material
portions of this provision apply to the requested information
at issue here, our focus is limited to the scope of the
phrase "the names of, or any information concerning,
persons applying for or receiving [Medicaid]
argues that the requested information is necessarily
"information concerning" Medicaid recipients
because it is derived from individual recipients'
Medicaid-claim records that involve the provision of Medicaid
services. Specifically, HHSC urges that disclosure of the
requested information is prohibited "[b]ecause
claim-level information, relating to an individual Medicaid
recipient, disclosed on a claim-by-claim basis, inherently
concerns the individual recipient from whose claim such
information is directly derived." Although the
claim-level information plainly has a factual relationship to
Medicaid recipients, we disagree that this relationship in
itself establishes that the information is "information
concerning" Medicaid recipients in the sense that phrase
is used in section 12.003.
fact that the requested information at issue here is
necessarily taken from individuals' Medicaid files is
not, as HHSC seems to argue, dispositive here. Although
section 12.003 does require that the protected information be
derived from HHSC records, the information from those records
is not ultimately shielded from disclosure unless it is
"information concerning persons applying for
or receiving [Medicaid] assistance." Tex. Hum. Res. Code
§ 12.003(a) (emphasis added). Stated another way, the
plain language of section 12.003 does not make all
information derived from Medicaid records confidential, only
the information in a Medicaid record that
"concerns" a Medicaid recipient or applicant. Had
the Legislature intended for this provision to ...