The Boeing Case and Why It Matters…

During this legislative session you are likely to hear a lot about the Public Information Act.  Senator Kirk Watson (Austin) and Representative Giovanni Capriglione (Keller) have introduced legislation that would change the PIA, closing what the legislators call a giant loophole. It all goes back to the case of Boeing Company v. Paxton. 

Boeing tried to block the public disclosure of certain information that was contained in its lease of space at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.  Boeing claimed that disclosure of this financial information would give an advantage to its competitors on future projects.  The Attorney General rejected Boeing’s argument and ordered the release of the information.   The district court in Austin and the Court of Appeals also ordered the disclosure of the information. But the Texas Supreme Court saw things otherwise, and ruled in favor of Boeing.

The key issue was whether or not Boeing, as a private party, could raise the issue at all.  The PIA allows information to be withheld from public disclosure if its release “would give advantage to a competitor or bidder.”  In accordance with the historical interpretation of this exception, the AG ruled that only the governmental entity could raise this issue.

Think of it this way: assume that your school district is asked to release financial information pertaining to the Acme Widget Company, which has bid on a project.  Your district is concerned that the release of the information about Acme would benefit other bidders, thus impairing the ability of your district to get the best deal.  According to the A.G., your district could cite the PIA exception, but Acme could not.  If your district chose to release the information, Acme could do nothing about it.

The Texas Supreme Court changed that in its Boeing decision. It held that the private party could also raise the exception, and if it could establish that the release of the information would give its competitors an advantage, it could seek to have the information withheld.

Senator Watson and Representative Capriglione describe this as a gigantic loophole that is keeping important information away from the public. So keep an eye on these bills as they make their way through the legislature.

The case of The Boeing Company v. Paxton was decided by the Texas Supreme Court on June 19, 2015.  We found it at 466 S.W.3d 831.



Tomorrow: Coming to midwinter?