AG improperly opined trade secrets must be released under PIA.

Waste Management of Texas, Inc. v Greg Abbott, 11-11-00112-CV (Tex. Civ. App. – Eastland, April 11, 2012).

This is a Public Information Act (“PIA”) case against the Texas Attorney General (“AG”). Essentially, a PIA request was made for Waste Management’s (“WM”) “waste tickets” by a competitor.  WM managed the local landfill for Williamson County under contract.  WM asserted the tickets were protected as trade secrets.  The AG disagreed and opined they were public and must be released.  The trial court agreed with the AG and ordered their release.  The 11th Court of Appeals disagreed, holding the tickets contained trade secret information and must be withheld. The Eleventh District Court of Appeals reversed and rendered.

The court went through a long factual background and recap of trial testimony which it utilized in its opinion.  The recap can be helpful for a city attorney making a trade secret argument to the AG in a PIA request for opinion.  However, the key points for this summary are that the waste tickets contained tonnage and pricing for each of the third-party haulers.  WM testified at trial that those were trade secrets.  It would not take much more than a competitor sitting outside the landfill and examining which trucks came in to determine the competitive rates.  Such rates were the results of long negotiations with each hauler and their release would put WM at a competitive disadvantage.  The AG determined the tonnage and rate information, by itself, were not protected as long as the name is withheld.

The 11th District disagreed and held that WM established as matter-of-law that the information was a trade secret, going through the six nonexclusive factors typically used in making that determination. The fact competitors could obtain a competitive edge when combining the ticket information with other information easily obtained is something improperly discounted by the AG.

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