Argus Leader Media v. Dep't of Agric., No. 11-04121, 2016 WL 6998623 (D.S.D. Nov. 30, 2016) (Schreier, J.)

Date: 
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Argus Leader Media v. Dep't of Agric., No. 11-04121, 2016 WL 6998623 (D.S.D. Nov. 30, 2016) (Schreier, J.)

Re: Request for data concerning Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Disposition: Entering judgment for plaintiff following bench trial

  • Exemption 4: The court holds that "USDA has failed to meet its burden to show that [plaintiff's] FOIA request falls within Exemption 4 because the . . . USDA did not show that release of the requested information would cause substantial competitive harm if it was disclosed." First, "[the] court finds that the requested information is obtained from a person, namely the third-party processors who facilitate the SNAP transactions." Second, "[the] court concludes that any potential competitive harm from the release of the requested SNAP data is speculative at best." The court explains that "while SNAP information may provide some insight into a store's overall financial health, the data is a small piece in a much larger picture[.]" The court also disregards "[t]he second concern the USDA voiced . . .[,] the potential stigma SNAP households and SNAP retailers might face." "As noted above, this type of harm is not relevant in an Exemption 4 analysis because it is not a harm caused by a competitor." Overall, the court holds that "SNAP data . . . does not disclose how a company bids on government contracts or negotiates with the federal government." "In essence, SNAP data is merely a bill from the retailer to the government." "As the USDA acknowledges, this type of data is regularly disclosed, and disclosure is consistent with FOIA's underlying purpose."
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 4
Updated February 14, 2017