|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 15, 2000
Ms. Stacy E. Sallee
Dear Ms. Sallee:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 13165.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (the "commission") received a written request for the recent winning proposal submitted to the commission for the state's CHIP administrative services. You do not contend that the requested information is excepted from required public disclosure, but rather have requested a decision from this office pursuant to section 552.305 of the Government Code, which authorizes parties with a privacy or proprietary interest in requested information to submit arguments to this office as to why the information is excepted from required public disclosure.(1) In accordance with section 552.305(d), the commission notified Birch & Davis Health Management Corporation ("Birch & Davis") of the current records request.
Birch & Davis responded to your notice and contends that portions of its proposal are excepted from required public disclosure pursuant to section 552.110 of the Government Code. Section 552.110 protects the property interests of private persons by excepting from disclosure two types of information: (1) trade secrets obtained from a person and privileged or confidential by statute or judicial decision, and (2) commercial or financial information for which it is demonstrated based on specific factual evidence that disclosure would cause substantial competitive harm to the person from whom the information was obtained. Birch & Davis contends that both branches of section 552.110 apply to its proposal.
The Texas Supreme Court has adopted the definition of trade secret from section 757 of the Restatement of Torts. Hyde Corp. v. Huffines, 314 S.W.2d 763 (Tex.), cert. denied, 358 U.S. 898 (1958); see also Open Records Decision No. 552 at 2 (1990). Section 757 provides that a trade secret is
any formula, pattern, device or compilation of information which is used in one's business, and which gives him an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it. It may be a formula for a chemical compound, a process of manufacturing, treating or preserving materials, a pattern for a machine or other device, or a list of customers. It differs from other secret information in a business . . . in that it is not simply information as to single or ephemeral events in the conduct of the business . . . . A trade secret is a process or device for continuous use in the operation of the business. . . . [It may] relate to the sale of goods or to other operations in the business, such as a code for determining discounts, rebates or other concessions in a price list or catalogue, or a list of specialized customers, or a method of bookkeeping or other office management.
Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939). In determining whether particular information constitutes a trade secret, this office considers the Restatement's definition of trade secret as well as the Restatement's list of six trade secret factors.(2) Id. This office has held that if a governmental body takes no position with regard to the application of the trade secret branch of section 552.110 to requested information, we must accept a private person's claim for exception as valid under that branch if that person establishes a prima facie case for exception and no argument is submitted that rebuts the claim as a matter of law. Open Records Decision No. 552 at 5-6 (1990).
The commercial or financial branch of section 552.110 requires the business enterprise whose information is at issue to make a specific factual or evidentiary showing, not conclusory or generalized allegations, that substantial competitive injury would result from disclosure. See Open Records Decision No. 661 (1999); see also National Parks and Conservation Association v. Morton, 498 F.2d 765, 770 (D.C. Cir. 1974).
Birch & Davis has identified nineteen specific groups of documents that it contends come under the protection of section 552.110, and has submitted two affidavits in support of its contentions. Specifically, Birch & Davis contends that the identified portions of its proposal would reveal its processes, methodologies, and strategies, as well as technical information relating to software it has developed and how it proposes to interface its operations with other pre-existing systems. After reviewing the information at issue, we conclude that Birch & Davis has demonstrated how the release of the following groups of documents, which were assigned "exception" numbers by Birch & Davis, would result in substantial competitive harm, and therefore are excepted from public disclosure under section 552.110 as confidential commercial or financial information: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10 (pages 276-280 only), 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, and 18. Because Birch & Davis has not demonstrated that the remaining information at issue, including all financial statements, would result in substantial competitive harm, the commission must release all remaining portions of the requested proposal.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Dep't of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Noelle C. Letteri
Ref: ID# 132165
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. John Monahan
1. Although more than ten business days have passed since the commission received the request for information, a third party's proprietary interest in the information constitutes a "compelling" interest that overcomes the resulting presumption of openness set out in section 552.302 of the Government Code. See Open Records Decision No. 150 (1977).
2. The six factors that the Restatement gives as indicia of whether information constitutes a trade secret are: (1) the extent to which the information is known outside of [the company]; (2) the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in [the company's] business; (3) the extent of measures taken by [the company] to guard the secrecy of the information; (4) the value of the information to [the company] and [its] competitors; (5) the amount of effort or money expended by [the company] in developing the information; (6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others." Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939); see also Open Records Decision Nos. 319 at 2 (1982), 306 at 2 (1982), 255 at 2 (1980).
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