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Notable News: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Business Privacy

The Supreme Court recently released a decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media  [Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, No. 18-481 (U.S. Jun. 24, 2019)] that may be beneficial to your business.

The issue began when a South Dakota newspaper owned by Argus Leader Media submitted a FOIA request to a government agency seeking a list of names and information for companies involved in a national agriculture program. In response to the FOIA Request, the government agency provided some of the information requested, including the participants’ names, but not all of it. The government agency refused to disclose each company’s sales data which the companies had provided as part of their participation in the program.

The newspaper sued, claiming that they should be allowed to obtain the companies’ sales data under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). After multiple rulings and appeals the case ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded that as long as the company was not publicly traded, then the information was private and “confidential” and therefore not subject to disclosure pursuant to a FOIA Request.

Why is this important?

Many small businesses are required to submit detailed business information related to licensing, permitting, in relation to government contracts, and participation in government-funded programs. Often this information includes financial data that would aid a competitor to compete with your business or which the business would otherwise not want to disclose to the general public. If your business is not publicly traded, then the Courts have given you some protections against disclosure in the event of a Freedom of Information Request.  In doing so, the Supreme Court recognized the value in maintaining certain company information as confidential so long as it is clear that the intent was for the data to be private. Thus, small businesses should conspicuously mark confidential and private business data, documentation or information as “CONFIDENTIAL” when submitting these to a government agency.

The business lawyers at The Jacobs Law LLC assist small businesses with federal, state and municipal licensing, permitting, government contracts, and compliance with government-funded or subsidized programs. If you require legal assistance in any of these matters please call us at 800-652-4783 or email us at ContactUs@TheJacobsLaw.com


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