Supreme Court Clarifies Broad Interpretation of FOIA Exemption for Confidential Commercial Information
In a very significant FOIA decision for business, Food Mktg. Inst. v. Argus Leader Media, decided on June 24, 2019, the Supreme Court reversed 45 years of understanding that Exemption 4 only protects confidential business information whose disclosure by the government would cause “substantial competitive harm.”
Relying on the plain meaning of words in the statute – rather than what the Court majority characterized as muddled legislative history – the Court found that the D.C. Circuit had engrafted a condition on the Exemption that is not supported by the text. Rather, so long as the commercial or financial information obtained by the government is “private” or “secret” – the plain and ordinary meaning of “confidential” – it may be withheld from disclosure under FOIA.