Company failed to establish how release of records held by City would cause it competitive harm under PIA

Genuine Parts  Company v Ken Paxton, 03-19-00441-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, July 10, 2020)

This is a Texas Public Information Act (“PIA”) case where the Austin Court of Appeals denied a third-party’s claim to keep its information held by the City of Houston excepted from release.

An attorney in Virginia filed a PIA request for a settlement agreement entered into between Genuine Parts Company (“Genuine”) and the City. In response to a third-party notice letter, Genuine filed an opinion request with the Texas Attorney General’s office asserting the agreement contained information that would give advantages to its competitors if disclosed. The Attorney General opined the agreement must be released. Genuine filed suit. The Attorney General filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. Genuine appealed.

Genuine Parts bears the burden of establishing that this exception to public disclosure applies to the Settlement Agreement.  The proper test is whether disclosure of the information would provide a competitor or bidder with an advantage, albeit not necessarily a decisive one.  Genuine provided examples of how competitors, in the past, had used the PIA to gain advantages in bids to which Genuine was also applying. While that could potentially be true, the key issue is whether the Settlement Agreement actually contains such harmful information. The Settlement Agreement identifies the parties and generally describes their dispute, the details of which are contained in publicly available federal court filings. The Settlement Agreement sets forth the total amount of a payment to be made by one party to the other along with the manner and timing of the payment. The Settlement Agreement references a lump sum amount relating to inventory. There is no description of the nature of the inventory or its pricing, and there is nothing that could be construed to constitute “performance figures.” Genuine also failed to explain how the contents of the Settlement Agreement might give a competitive advantage. As a result, the evidence in the record fails to demonstrate that the Settlement Agreement contains information that “if released would give advantage to a competitor or bidder.” The trial court properly granted the AG’s summary judgment.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Kelly.  Opinions by Justice Baker.