THE UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT v. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION et al., SC 18772
Judicial District of New Britain
Freedom of Information; Whether a Public Entity can Create and Maintain Trade Secrets; Whether UConn's Customer Lists Exempt from Disclosure Under Trade Secrets Exemption To FOIA. The freedom of information commission (FOIC) received a complaint alleging that the University of Connecticut (UConn) improperly refused a request for disclosure of the names and addresses of (1) purchasers of tickets to the school's athletic events held by the University Athletics Department and to performing arts events at the Jorgensen Auditorium, (2) persons who made inquiries about programs at the Center for Continuing Studies, and (3) donors to the University Libraries Division. UConn claimed that the requested records were "customer lists" that were exempt from the disclosure requirements of the freedom of information act as "trade secrets" pursuant to General Statutes § 1-210 (b) (5) (A). The statute defines "trade secrets" as "information, including . . . customer lists . . . that (i) derive independent economic value . . . from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from their disclosure or use, and (ii) are the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain secrecy." The FOIC ordered the records disclosed, finding that a public entity such as UConn cannot maintain its own protected trade secrets because UConn is largely subsidized by public funds and is not engaged in a trade or business dependent on earned income for its continued existence. On appeal, the trial court found that nothing in the statute suggests that a public agency cannot maintain trade secrets and that the records maintained by the University Athletics Department, Jorgensen Auditorium and the Center for Continuing Studies qualify as protected trade secrets. The court noted that UConn is in competition with a variety of other entities throughout the state that, like UConn, provide athletic and performing arts events and educational programs for a profit. The court further noted that UConn has expended much time and effort in developing its customer lists and that disclosing those lists would have an adverse economic effect on UConn by giving its competitors the opportunity to persuade UConn's regular customers to spend their limited entertainment dollars on competitors' events and programs. Although the trial court found that the list of donors to the University Libraries Division does not constitute a customer list under the trade secrets exemption because donors are not purchasing goods or services, the court remanded the matter to the FOIC for findings as to whether the records qualify as another type of "information" protected as a trade secret and as to whether the records do not qualify for exemption because they are readily ascertainable from other sources. The FOIC appeals from the decision to the Supreme Court.