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IVANHOE CITRUS ASSN. v. HANDLEY

July 12, 1985

IVANHOE CITRUS ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HONORABLE JAMES C. HANDLEY, et al., Defendants, CAPITAL LEGAL FOUNDATION, Defendant-Intervenor



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

OPINION OF THE HONORABLE CHARLES R. RICHEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 INTRODUCTION

 This is a "reverse" Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") case, in which plaintiff seeks to enjoin defendants' release of certain documents to defendant-intervenor. The case is before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, and defendant-intervenor's cross motion for summary judgment. The parties agree that there is no dispute over any material facts, and, for the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendants' and defendant-intervenor's motions for summary judgment.

 The parties in this case are involved in the orange production business. There are three types of entities involved in the process of producing oranges and eventually getting them to market. There are the growers, who produce the oranges; the handlers, who generally contract with the growers to pick the oranges, pack them, and sell and distribute them; and the marketing organizations, who buy the oranges from the handlers and sell them to wholesale and retail outlets.

 Plaintiffs in this action are handlers, or groups containing members who are handlers, of California and Arizona navel and Valencia oranges. As handlers, they have contracts with certain growers for packing and distributing oranges. Pursuant to requests of defendants, the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") and certain of its agents, plaintiffs have submitted to defendants information which includes the names and addresses of growers from whom they receive navel and Valencia oranges. Defendant-intervenor Capital Legal Foundation ("Capital") is a non-profit law firm which has requested some of this information from defendants.

 PROCEDURAL HISTORY

 On August 14, 1984, pursuant to FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552, Capital requested from defendants a list of names and addresses of orange growers, which list was generated by defendants in connection with a grower referendum. This request was made on behalf of Carl Pescosolido, a grower and handler of navel and valencia oranges in California. On May 15, 1985, receiving an unsatisfactory response from defendants, Capital filed suit in this Court seeking to obtain, pursuant to FOIA, the lists. Capital Legal Foundation v. USDA, Civil Action No. 85-1557. On June 26, 1985, Capital and USDA settled their lawsuit, agreeing that USDA would turn over the requested document by Monday, July 1, 1985. On June 27, 1985, some of the plaintiffs herein, not realizing that the case had been settled and dismissed, and believing that the requested documents contained confidential lists of growers under contracts with the handler plaintiffs, filed a motion to intervene in Civil Action No. 85-1557. Having filed to late to intervene, plaintiffs on Friday, June 28, 1985, filed this "reverse" FOIA action seeking to enjoin the release of the list of orange growers. Plaintiffs also moved for a temporary restraining order. That same day, the Court held a hearing on the motion, which the Court granted.

 GOVERNMENTAL REGULATION OF THE PRODUCTION OF ORANGES

 The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 ("AMAA", or "Act"), 7 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., represents Congress's intention to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to establish orderly marketing conditions for agricultural commodities. See id. § 602. The Secretary may establish marketing agreements with growers, handlers, and others in the trade, which agreements are exempt from the prohibitions of antitrust laws. Id. § 608b. Pursuant to the authority granted to the Secretary under the Act, the Secretary enacted Marketing Orders 907 and 908 to regulate the handling of navel and Valencia oranges, respectively, in the continental United States and Canada. 7 C.F.R. Parts 907 and 908. Essentially, the marketing orders regulate the flow of fresh oranges to market by permitting each handler to ship a certain percentage of the total amount of oranges to be handled. See 7 U.S.C. § 608c. Marketing orders 907 and 908 each established an Administrative Committee for navel and Valencia oranges, respectively. 7 C.F.R. §§ 907.20 and 908.20. The Administrative Committees are designed to generally administer the orders, to recommend amendments, and to act as intermediaries between the Secretary and growers and handlers. Id. §§ 907.28, 907.29, 908.28, 908.29.

 Under the AMAA, the Secretary of Agriculture must conduct a referendum of growers or processors to determine whether a new marketing order is favored by the growers or processors. 7 U.S.C. § 608c(19). The Secretary may, but is not required to, conduct such referenda in the case of an amendatory order. Id. The AMAA does not require the Secretary to keep confidential any information obtained pursuant to 7 U.S.C. § 608c. These referenda are conducted by the Agricultural Marketing Service ("AMS") of the USDA. Doyle Dec. para. 1. *fn1" To conduct these referenda, the AMS must develop a list of growers, such that sought by Capital in the case at bar. Id. para. 6.

 During the period August 15 through August 31, 1984, AMS conducted referenda for the issuance of an amendatory order for marketing orders 907 and 908. Thus, AMS had to compile a list of grower names, addresses, and other information. Because the Administrative Committees maintained a computer data base with the pertinent information, AMS obtained the lists from the Committees. Id. para. 7. The source of the information contained in the Committees' computer data base are forms provided to the Committees by the handlers of navel and Valencia oranges. Id. It appears that the handlers, such as plaintiffs, provided this information on forms printed by Administrative Committees, known as Forms 1-A. These Forms 1-A state that the requested information "is required to determine and verify handler prorate bases", and that false statements provided on the forms would subject the handler to fines and criminal penalties. It is these lists, compiled by the Administrative Committees on Forms 1-A to conduct the August, 1984, referendum, and containing only the names and addresses of growers, which USDA has agreed to turn over to Capital.

 Other sections of the AMAA allow the Secretary of Agriculture to acquire certain information to enable him to perform certain functions under the Act:

 
All parties to any marketing agreement, and all handlers subject to an order, shall severally, from time to time, upon the request of the Secretary, furnish him with such information as he finds to be necessary to enable him to ascertain and determine the extent to which such agreement or order has been carried out or has effectuated the declared policy of this chapter and with such information as he finds to be necessary to determine whether or not there has been any abuse of the privilege of exemptions from the antitrust laws.

 7 U.S.C. § 608d(1).

 This section goes on the state that "all information furnished to or acquired by the Secretary of Agriculture pursuant to this section shall be kept confidential by all officers and employees of the Department of Agriculture." Id. § 608d(2). The confidentiality, however, is not absolute:

 
Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit (A) the issuance of general statements based upon the reports of a number of parties to a marketing agreement or of handlers subject to an order, which statements do not identify the information furnished by any person. . . .

 Id. The statute provides for a fine, criminal conviction, and removal from office for any person violating the confidentiality provisions. Id.

 Plaintiffs contend that they provided this information to the Administrative Committees pursuant to this section of the AMAA, and that it is protected by the Act's confidentiality provisions. Indeed, this is the position taken by AMS upon Capital's August, 1984, administrative FOIA request. In a letter dated February 15, 1985, defendants confirmed the denial of Capital's administrative appeal, stating that the requested grower list was exempt from release under FOIA exemptions 3, 4, and 6, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3), (b)(4), and (b)(6). As noted, defendants changed their position, and agreed to settle Capital's lawsuit, Civil Action No. 85-1557, by releasing the lists. Plaintiffs, fearing that the ...


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