Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, D/B/A Argus Leader

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: January 11, 2019
  • Case #: 17-1346
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 889 F.3d 914 (8th Cir. 2018).
  • Full Text Opinion

1. Does the statutory term “confidential” in FOIA Exemption 4 bear its ordinary meaning, thus requiring the Government to withhold all “commercial or financial information” that is confidentially held and not publicly disseminated—regardless of whether a party establishes substantial competitive harm from disclosure—which would resolve at least five circuit splits? 2. Alternatively, if the Court retains the substantial competitive-harm test, is that test satisfied when the requested information could be potentially useful to a competitor (as the First and Tenth Circuits have held), or must the party opposing disclosure establish with near certainty a defined competitive harm like lost market share (as the Ninth and D.C. Circuits have held, and as the Eighth Circuit required here)?

Petitioner operates a voluntary trade organization, with membership representing approximately 33,000 retail food stores across the United States and overseas. Respondent is a newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Respondent requested data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding SNAP benefits under the Freedom of Information Act. The USDA supplied most of the information, but withheld store-level sales data. Respondent brought suit in order to obtain the store-level data. Asserting FOIA exemptions, the USDA argued that such data is protected. See 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(4). The District Court ruled in favor of Respondent, holding that under National Parks & Conservation Association v. Morton, 498 F.2d 765, 770 (D.C. Cir. 1974), “confidential” includes only information which would “cause substantial (competitive) harm” to the entities whose data is disclosed. Petitioner moved to intervene and appeal the judgement after the USDA stated it would not appeal. After the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court, Petitioner sought review by the Court to resolve a circuit split in application of the FIOA exception. 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(4). Petitioner argues that the Eighth Circuit and D.C. Circuit’s adoption of the National Parks  fact dependent interpretation of “substantial competitive harm” is in direct opposition to the Court’s analysis of FIOA exemption cases, which recognizes the ordinary meaning of FIOA exceptions. See U.S. Dep’t of Justice v. Landano, 508 U.S. 165, 173 (1993).


Advanced Search

Back to Top