LOCATION: New York Transit Authority
DOCKET NO.: 77-922
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 441 US 281 (1979)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1978
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1979
Burt Braverman - for petitioner
Barbara B. Babcock -
Barbara Allen Babcock - for respondents
Facts of the case
Media for Chrysler Corporation v. BrownAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1978 in Chrysler Corporation v. Brown
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 18, 1979 in Chrysler Corporation v. Brown
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 922, Chrysler Corporation against Brown will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.
William H. Rehnquist:
The petitioner in this case Chrysler Corporation has numerous contracts with the government.
One of the conditions of those contracts is that to provide reports and statistical information to specific government agencies in order to show that it is not discriminating in employment on the basis of race or sex and is making acceptable affirmative action efforts.
A third party, someone not involved the contracts between Chrysler and the government made a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain some of the reports.
The relevant government agency told Chrysler it intended to release the information to the requesting party.
And Chrysler then filed this action in the Federal District Court in Delaware.
In the District Court, Chrysler argued that the request of the material was within the trade secrets exemption to the Freedom of Information Act and that therefore the government agency was barred from disclosing it to third parties.
It also argued that disclosure was barred by a criminal statute, Title 18 United States Code Section 1905 which prohibits the release of trade secrets or confidential business information by government employees if such disclosure is not otherwise in the words of that statute authorized by law.
The District Court held that the exemption to the Freedom of Information Act do not bar the release of information but simply give the government agency discretion whether or not to release material within the terms of the exemptions.
But it agreed with Chrysler that the disclosure of certain requested materials was barred by Section 1905.
It rejected the government's argument that because of the disclosure of the information was pursuant to certain federal regulations, the discovery was therefore “authorized by law within the terms of Section 1905.”
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and remanded.
It agreed with the District Court that the exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act only permit withholding information did not require it.
It disagreed however on the question whether disclosure pursuant to the federal regulations was authorized by law for purposes of 1905.
It concluded that the regulations in question had the force and effect of law.
Today, we vacate the Court of Appeals' judgment and remand for further proceedings.
We agree with both courts below that exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act do not require agencies to withhold information within the terms of these exemptions.
But we conclude that the right regulations involved in this case are substantively and procedurally inadequate to provide the “authorization by law” required by Section 1905.
The Court of Appeals was therefore wrong in thinking that the regulations took the requested material out from under the provisions of Section 1905.
Although the Court's opinion today is unanimous, Mr. Justice Marshall has also filed a separate concurring opinion.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.