Public Access Opinion 19-007

Improper Denial of Request as Commercial Information

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 19-007
Date: Monday, September 23, 2019

The City of Chicago Department of Public Health (Department) violated FOIA by improperly denying a FOIA request using the trade secrets and commercial information exemption of Section 7(1)(g). On March 29, 2019, the Department received a FOIA request for records concerning the amount of manganese that enters and leaves a business’s facility. On April 12, 2019, the Department provided the Requestor with the requested records for four manganese-bearing material providers’ reports.

Later that day, the Department sent an email to the Requestor stating that the request for manganese reports from S.H. Bell were denied, citing Section 7(1)(g) of FOIA, which exempts, “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person or business where the trade secrets or commercial or financial information are furnished under a claim that they are proprietary, privileged or confidential, and that disclosure of the trade secrets or commercial or financial information would cause competitive harm to the person or business, and only insofar as the claim directly applies to the records requested." The Department’s denial included a statement from S.H. Bell explaining why the information should not be disclosed. On June 9, 2019, the Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the PAC contesting the Department’s withholding of the reports from S.H. Bell.
To withhold a record under Section 7(1)(g), a public body must demonstrate that: 1) the record contains a trade secret or commercial or financial information; 2) it was furnished to the public body by a person or business under a claim of confidentiality; and 3) disclosure of the trade secrets or commercial or financial information would cause competitive harm to that person or business. Because S.H. Bell had submitted its reports to the Department under a claim of confidentiality, the PAC reviewed whether the Department had demonstrated that disclosing the reports would cause competitive harm to S.H. Bell.
Finding no clear and convincing evidence that S.H. Bell would suffer competitive harm, the PAC held that the reports were not exempt from disclosure under Section 7(1)(g) and that the Department violated FOIA by withholding them.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.