|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 21, 2000
Mr. James L. Hall
Dear Mr. Hall:
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# 142517.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the "department") received a request for seven categories of information related to solicitation No. 696-DS-0-0057. You contend that the information responsive to one of those categories, "the complete set of bid documents submitted by Digital Biometrics, Inc.," is excepted from disclosure under section 552.110 of the Government Code. We assume that the information responsive to the other six categories of the request has been released to this requestor.
The department provided notice to Digital Biometrics, Inc. ("DBI"), the company whose information is responsive to the request, of the pending request for information. See Gov't Code § 552.305 (permitting interested third party to submit to attorney general reasons why requested information should not be released); Open Records Decision No. 542 (1990) (determining that statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.305 permits governmental body to rely on interested third party to raise and explain applicability of exception in Act in certain circumstances). Representatives of DBI provided comment to this office, arguing that the portions of the responsive bid that reveal component pricing information are excepted from disclosure under section 552.110 of the Government Code.(1)
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. The governmental body, or interested third party, raising this exception must provide a specific factual or evidentiary showing, not conclusory or generalized allegations, that substantial competitive injury would likely result from disclosure. Gov't Code § 552.110(b); see also National Parks & Conservation Ass'n v. Morton, 498 F.2d 765 (D.C. Cir. 1974).
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. Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939).(2) 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).
We have reviewed DBI's arguments for withhold portions of its proposal. We do not believe that this proposed pricing information falls within the Restatement definition of a trade secret. Pricing information is not "a process or device for continuous use in the operation of the business;" rather, it is information regarding a "single or ephemeral [event] in the conduct of the business." Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939) (defining trade secret as not encompassing information that relates to single event in the conduct of business); Open Records Decision No. 592 (1991); see Open Records Decision Nos. 319 (1982) at 3 (section 552.110 not applicable to pricing information in government contract), 306 (1982) at 3 (same).
Furthermore, we do not believe that the general costs associated with a proposal may be withheld as commercial or financial information under the second prong of section 552.110. In Open Records Decision No. 639 (1996), this office announced that it would follow the federal courts' interpretation of exemption 4 to the federal Freedom of Information Act when applying the second prong of section 552.110. Federal cases applying the FOIA exemption 4 have required a balancing of the public interest in disclosure with the competitive injury to the company in question. See Open Records Decision No. 494 (1988) (balancing public interest in disclosure of information with competitive injury to company); see generally Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview (1995) 136-138, 140-141, 151-152 (disclosure of prices is cost of doing business with government); see also Open Records Decision Nos. 541 (1990), 514 (1988). The public has an interest in knowing the terms that a governmental body negotiates with third parties for contracts. We conclude that the basic pricing terms of the proposal are not excepted from disclosure under section 552.110 as commercial or financial information or as trade secrets. The requested information must therefore be released.
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).
Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to Hadassah Schloss at the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497.
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.
Michael Jay Burns
Ref: ID# 142517
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Michael F. Pearson
1. DBI also asserts section 552.110 for materials evaluating the capabilities of DBI documents exchanged between DBI and the department subsequent to the delivery of DBI's bid as they relate to information contained in the Cost Response binder. We note that the department did not submit this information to this office. Nevertheless, it appears that such information is not responsive to the request for bid documents submitted by DBI.
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).