If you thought a case, just decided last week by SCOTUS, involving a claim against the VA by a veteran who had been denied benefits (Kisor v. Wilkie) seemed far afield from the securities laws (but really could have a significant impact—see this PubCo post), a case decided last Monday might trigger a similar reaction. Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media involved an effort by a South Dakota newspaper to obtain from the Department of Agriculture, under the Freedom of Information Act, the names and addresses of retail stores participating in SNAP, the national food-stamp program. The result in the case, which broadened the definition of “confidentiality” under FOIA Exemption 4, will make it substantially easier for parties to claim “confidentiality” under FOIA, preventing disclosure of their information.
Now the question arises as to what, if any, its impact will be on the confidentiality process in connection with filings with the SEC. Had the case been decided on, say, March 19, it could, theoretically, at least, have had a fairly substantial effect: in seeking confidential treatment at that point, companies were required to submit a confidential treatment request (CTR) that stated the grounds for objection to disclosure, analyzing the applicable exemption under FOIA. But, in an interesting turn of events, on March 20, the SEC adopted new rules for confidentiality that streamlined the process, but no longer required submission of a CTR and no longer directly adverted to FOIA Exemption 4. Instead of referring to Exemption 4, ironically, the new rules expressly recite certain requirements for claims of confidentiality drawn from Exemption 4, including one that was tossed out by SCOTUS in the decision. (See this PubCo post.) Accordingly, whether the decision will have any significant impact on the SEC’s process for seeking confidentiality will really depend on whether the SEC elects to take up the issue.
The SEC’s new rules related to confidential treatment (part of FAST Act Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K) became effective today, April 2, when the adopting release was published in the Federal Register. With that in mind, Corp Fin has posted some guidance under the very descriptive title, New Rules and Procedures for Exhibits Containing Immaterial, Competitively Harmful Information, to help companies comply with the new confidential treatment process, discussed below. The remainder of the release (other than provisions related to data-tagging, which will be phased in) will become effective on May 2. (For a summary of the new rules, see this PubCo post, which, since the initial posting, has been revised and updated.)