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Statutory Disclosure Intent Enforced, Texas Mental Health Department Abuse Incidents Ordered Disclosed

Texas Attorney General (AG) Greg Abbott appealed a 2006 court ruling denying the disclosure of records related to incidents of abuse at Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (TDMHMR) facilities. The ruling was reversed and disclosure of the records was ordered.

The media had requested statistical documents pertaining to sexual assault and abuse allegations at TDMHMR-operated facilities pursuant to the state’s Public Information Act (PIA). TDMHMR maintained that such disclosure was prohibited under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and sought an opinion from the AG’s office regarding disclosure. The AG's opinion favored disclosure under the PIA. TDMHMR then brought a court action to prevent disclosure, and the trial court ruled in the agency’s favor. The AG appealed.

The Third District for the Court of Appeals of Texas at Austin held that since statistical information does not relate to specific individuals, it was not "protected health information" under HIPAA or the Privacy Rule. The Court further held that since TDMHMR could statutorily satisfy both HIPAA and Privacy Rule requirements while allowing the disclosure, the Privacy Rule did not preempt the PIA because the request for records was made pursuant to a statute that requires disclosure. See: Abbott v. Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, 212 S.W.3d 648 (Tex.App.-Austin, 2006).

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Related legal case

Abbott v. Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation