The Supreme Court Expands the Meaning of “Confidential” Information under FOIA Exemption 4

Robyn N. Burrows

The Supreme Court in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, No. 18-481 (U.S. June 24, 2019) recently relaxed the standard for withholding confidential information under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”)—a major win for contractors that regularly submit sensitive business information to the government.

Exemption 4 protects from disclosure trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential. For the past 45 years, courts have been guided by the stringent “competitive harm” test first enunciated in National Parks & Conservation Association v. Morton, 498 F.2d 765 (D.C. Cir. 1974). This test allowed an agency to withhold information as “confidential” only if disclosure would (1) impair the government’s ability to obtain necessary information in the future, or (2) cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the person from whom the information was obtained. Many businesses objected to this test as overly burdensome and causing confusion about the showing required to establish substantial competitive harm. Continue reading “The Supreme Court Expands the Meaning of “Confidential” Information under FOIA Exemption 4”