|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
May 1, 2000
Ms. Tina Plummer
Dear Ms. Plummer:
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# 134667.
The Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (the "department") received a request for copies of any information pertaining to ValueOptions (the "company") and its proposed solutions to the financial shortfalls associated with the NorthSTAR program. You have requested a decision from this office pursuant to section 552.305 of 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. The company has submitted arguments to this office for withholding the information at issue. Specifically, the company contends that the information at issue is protected from public disclosure under both branches of section 552.110 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception claimed and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.110 protects: (1) trade secrets, and (2) commercial or financial information, the release of which would cause substantial competitive harm to the person from whom the information was obtained.
The Texas Supreme Court has adopted the definition of "trade secret" from the Restatement of Torts, section 757, which holds a "trade secret" to be:
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 a single or ephemeral event 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); see Hyde Corp. v. Huffines, 314 S.W.2d 763, 776 (Tex.), cert. denied, 358 U.S. 898 (1958); see also Open Records Decision No. 552 at 2 (1990). 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.(1) 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).
As noted above, section 552.110 protects both trade secrets and commercial or financial information, the disclosure of which would cause substantial competitive harm. 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).
Based upon our review of the documents and the arguments presented by the company, we conclude that the submitted information does not meet the definition of "trade secret" in that it appears to be information that relates to "a single or ephemeral event in the conduct of business." In addition, the company has not provided specific facts or evidence that would demonstrate that substantial competitive harm would result from the release of this information. Therefore, we conclude that the information at issue does not fall within the protection of either the trade secret or the commercial or financial information branch of section 552.110. You must release the information to the requestor.(2)
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 Department 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.
Ref: ID# 134667
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Stephen M. Niemi
Ms. Carole Matyas
1. 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).
2. The company cites Open Records Letter Ruling No. 99-3682 in support of withholding the information at issue. However, the information at issue in the instant case is distinctly different. Open Records Letter Ruling No. 99-3682 concerned portions of the proposals submitted by the company and the requestor. The information at issue here concerns the revenues and expenses the company experienced over a specific time period.
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