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Powder River Basin Resource Council v. Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20050
Nos. 2014 WY 37, (Wyo., 03/12/2014)

The Supreme Court of Wyoming reversed and remanded a lower court decision affirming the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's denial of a request for public records documenting the identities of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations in the state. Below, the environmental groups that requested the documents sought review of the Commission's decision under the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act (WAPA). But the lower court upheld the Commission's denial, ruling that the Commission reasonably concluded that the requested information was exempt from public disclosure as trade secrets under the Wyoming Public Records Act (WPRA). However, proceedings to challenge denial of access to documents claimed to be public must follow procedures established by the WPRA, not the WAPA. The court, therefore, reversed and remanded the case because of this procedural error. On remand, the lower court will have to determine whether to allow the groups to amend their pleadings and file appropriate documents to seek an order to show cause, or whether to dismiss the case. In the latter event, the groups may file a new action with an appropriate request for an order to show cause as contemplated by the WPRA. But the court also held that in defining "trade secrets" under the WPRA, the courts should apply the definition developed in federal case law under FOIA. Accordingly, there must be a "direct relationship" between the trade secret and the productive process. The narrower definition set forth in FOIA is more in tune with the policies behind the WPRA than the broader definitions of the Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition or the Trade Secrets Act, which are intended to prevent unfair competition and misappropriation and not to guarantee the public’s right to access documents that will reveal the operations of our government.