Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Congress did not design the Freedom of Information Act exemptions to be mandatory bars to disclosure.
As a party to numerous government contracts, and in order to comply with Executive Order 11246, a corporation, as required by regulations of the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), submitted to the Defense Logistic Agency (DLA) of the Department of Defense written affirmative action programs and annual employer information reports. OFCCP disclosure regulations provided that notwithstanding exemption from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 USCS 552), records obtained under Executive Order 11246 can be made available if it was determined that disclosure would further the public interest and not impede the functions of the compliance agency. After the corporation had been notified by the DLA that the DLA had received an FOIA request from third parties for the disclosure of materials furnished to the DLA by the corporation, the corporation objected to the release of the information, but the DLA determined that the material was subject to disclosure under the FOIA and the OFCCP disclosure regulations. The corporation then brought an action in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware seeking to enjoin release of the documents. The District Court held that certain of the requested information fell within Exemption 4 of the FOIA relating to trade secrets (5 USCS 552(b)(4)), and that a Labor Department regulation stating that no officer or employee of the Department was to violate the Trade Secrets Act (18 USCS 1905)--which imposed criminal sanctions on government employees who disclose in any manner "not authorized by law" certain classes of information submitted to a federal agency, including trade secrets and confidential statistical data--required that the information be withheld (412 F Supp 171). On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the District Court's judgment, holding that disclosures made pursuant to the OFCCP disclosure regulations were "authorized by law" by virtue of those regulations. Certiorari was granted.
Did the FOIA afford the corporation a private right of action to enjoin agency disclosure?
The Court agreed with the lower court's judgment finding that the FOIA was purely a disclosure statute affording petitioner no private right of action to enjoin agency disclosure but disagreed with lower court's judgment that disclosure was authorized by law within meaning of § 1905. The Court held that the basic objective of the FOIA was disclosure and that the FOIA exemptions were not a mandatory bar to disclosure. Congress did not limit an agency's discretion to disclose information when it enacted the FOIA; thus, the FOIA did not afford petitioner a right to enjoin agency disclosure. In addition, § 1905 did not afford petitioner a private right of action to enjoin disclosure in violation of the statute. Section 1905 was intended to address formal agency action. The Court concluded that the regulations did not provide the authorization required by statute because they were not substantive rules having the binding effect of law.