Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Corporations
  • Date Filed: June 24, 2019
  • Case #: 18-481
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GORSUCH, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J.,and THOMAS, ALITO, KAGAN, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which GINSBURG and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, commercial and financial information that is “customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of [express or implied] privacy” is deemed confidential.

Petitioner is an intervening party to a dispute between Respondent and the United States Department of Agriculture. Respondent requested access to “store-level data” regarding a nutrition assistance program, which the USDA retained. The USDA invoked Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which shields disclosure of certain confidential information. Respondent sued to compel disclosure. A federal district court found for Respondent and Petitioner intervened, appealing to the Eight Circuit, which affirmed. The Supreme Court first answers the question of whether Petitioner meets all factors required for standing, holding that it does. It then addresses the meaning of “confidential” as it is used in the FOIA. Finding that the lower courts grafted National Parks & Conservation Assn. v. Morton’s “competitive harm” test into the statute, the Court decides that they skipped the first step of looking to the common meaning of the term. The Court disagrees with this reliance on legislative history, and instead defines the term using Webster’s Dictionary. It further finds that earlier courts of appeals have accurately applied the same analysis, and agrees that Exemption 4 protects information that an individual wishes to keep private under either an express or implied promise from the government. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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