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Oh, SNAP! Argus Media Loses Again

Parties that litigate a case to the U.S. Supreme Court are few and far between.  And while it’s always crushing to lose before the nation’s highest court, most litigants take their lumps and go home.  The Argus Leader, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota newspaper, did not get the message.  Instead, it filed a motion for a new trial and a motion seeking to upload an Order issued by the Court in August 2017 awarding more than $68,000 in attorney fees and costs.  Not surprisingly, on April 1, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier issued an Order denying both motions.

The Court denied the motion for a new trial on the ground that the Supreme Court articulated a new standard governing confidential information under FOIA Exemption 4 and affirmatively decided that store-level SNAP data was confidential under its new test. Judge Schreier also concluded that no unresolved factual or legal issues remained for her and that only “ministerial” matters related to vacating of orders inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s new standard remained.  The District Court also found that the Supreme Court’s holding applied to all retailers, not only FMI members.

With respect to the attorney’s fee issue, Judge Schreier noted that the Argus Leader did not obtain the relief it was seeking in the lawsuit after the Supreme Court reversed her decision and the Eighth Circuit’s opinion on appeal. The Argus Leader’s catalyst argument was also rejected because a “change in policy does not equate to a change in position.” Id., at *Docket 223 at 6-7. Moreover, following the Supreme Court’s decision, Argus Leader was no longer the prevailing party, a fundamental prerequisite to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees under FOIA.

Hopefully, this Order is the final act in this nearly decade-long saga. The Supreme Court has clearly held that store-level SNAP data is confidential and exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 4.  It should not be news to the Argus Leader that it did not prevail in its effort to obtain the release of store-level SNAP data.  The newspaper would be well-advised to belatedly heed the words of the late, great Kenny Rogers and fold ‘em.

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