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FMI SNAP Case Gets Supreme Court Date

The court will hear arguments next month on whether federal regulations can prevent disclosure of retailer's sensitive sales data
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Food Marketing Institute’s fight to prevent disclosure of store-level data regarding redemption of federal food benefits will go before the U.S. Supreme Court next month.

At issue in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media is whether Exemption 4 to the Freedom of Information Act protects from mandatory disclosure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemption data, which FMI argues is sensitive and has significant value to competitors.

Argus Leader, a South Dakota newspaper owned by Gannett, has argued that taxpayers have a right to know where government dollars are spent. “FMI and its members don’t disagree with that general proposition—but food retailers of all sizes and geographic locations have expressed apprehension about the release of this individualized, highly granular information, which says less about how and where government money is spent than on the specific competitive position of particular stores and companies,” FMI said.

FMI appealed to the Supreme Court last summer to prevent the release of such data after the 8th Circuit Court of appeals had previously ruled that the sales figures were public information.

The case dates back to a lawsuit filed by the newspaper against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2001 after the USDA, which oversees SNAP, declined to provide the data in a Freedom of Information Act request from the newspaper.

The USDA abandoned the case in 2017 after losing a bench trial in U.S. Federal District Court in South Dakota, but FMI intervened and appealed to the 8th Circuit.

The Supreme Court said it would hear oral arguments April 22 and expects to make a ruling over the summer.

The National Association of Convenience Stores, National Grocers Association and National Retail Federation have filed a brief in support of FMI’s position.

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