447 U.S. 102 (1980), 79-521, Consumer Product Safety Commission v. GTE Sylvania, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 79-521
Citation:447 U.S. 102, 100 S.Ct. 2051, 64 L.Ed.2d 766
Party Name:Consumer Product Safety Commission v. GTE Sylvania, Inc.
Case Date:June 09, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 102

447 U.S. 102 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 2051, 64 L.Ed.2d 766

Consumer Product Safety Commission

v.

GTE Sylvania, Inc.

No. 79-521

United States Supreme Court

June 9, 1980

Argued April 14, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 6(b)(1) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) requires that, at least 30 days prior to the "public disclosure of any information" pertaining to a consumer product obtained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (Commission) pursuant to its information-gathering authority, the Commission must notify the manufacturer and provide it with a summary of the information to be disclosed, if the product is to be designated or described in such a way as to permit the public to ascertain readily the manufacturer's identity; that the manufacturer be given a reasonable opportunity to submit comments regarding the information; and that the Commission "take reasonable steps to assure" that such information is "accurate" and that disclosure is "fair in the circumstances and reasonably related to effectuating the purposes" of the CPSA. In the instant case, the Commission, upon receiving Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and without complying with § 6(b)(1), decided to release certain accident reports that it had obtained from respondent manufacturers and that were accompanied, for the most part, by claims of confidentiality. The District Court permanently enjoined the Commission from disclosing the materials, rejecting its contention that § 6(b)(1) applies only when the Commission affirmatively undertakes to disclose information to the public, but not when it merely complies with a request for information under the FOIA. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held. Section 6(b)(1) governs the disclosure of records by the Commission pursuant to a request under the FOIA. Pp. 108-124.

(a) Nothing in § 6(b)(1)'s language, or in any other provision of the CPSA, supports the claim that § 6(b)(1) is limited to disclosures initiated by the Commission, a disclosure pursuant to the FOIA being accurately characterized as a "public disclosure" within the plain meaning of § 6(b)(1). Moreover, § 6(b)(2), which contains specific exceptions to § 6(b)(1)'s requirements, does not include the disclosure of information in response to an FOIA request. And § 25(c) of the CPSA -- designating certain reports as "public information" notwithstanding that they might be exempted from disclosure under the FOIA,

Page 103

and thus within the scope of § 6(a)(1), which incorporates by reference the exemptions of the FOIA -- specifically makes the disclosure of the information subject to the limitations of § 6(b) whether it be "affirmatively" released by the Commission or released pursuant to an FOIA request. Pp. 108-110.

(b) Neither the legislative history of the CPSA prior to its enactment nor subsequent legislative and administrative interpretations of § 6(b)(1) warrant construing § 6(b)(1) as being limited to the Commission's "affirmative" disclosures. Pp. 110-120.

(c) Applicability of § 6(b)(1) to FOIA requests is not precluded on the alleged ground that the Commission would be unable to comply with FOIA time requirements for handling disclosure requests and administrative appeals from refusals to disclose. Such an argument assumes that the Commission must comply with FOIA time limitations, but its Exemption 3 states that the FOIA does not apply to matters that are specifically exempted from disclosure by another statute which requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue, or which establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld. Here, § 6(b)(1) sets forth sufficiently definite standards to fall within the scope of Exemption 3. Pp. 121-123.

(d) The argument that requiring the Commission to comply with § 6(b)(1) in meeting FOIA requests will impose insurmountable burdens on the agency is entirely [100 S.Ct. 2054] speculative. Moreover, any increased burdens imposed on the Commission were intended by Congress in striking an appropriate balance between the interests of consumers and the need for fairness and accuracy with respect to information disclosed by the Commission, and thus the claim of undue burdens is properly addressed to Congress, not this Court. Pp. 123-124.

598 F.2d 790, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 104

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether § 6(b)(1) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2055(b)(1), governs the disclosure of records by the Consumer Product Safety Commission pursuant to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. We granted certiorari to review a judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit because of the importance of the question and because of a conflict in the Circuits.1 411 U.S. 979.

I

In 1972, Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), 86 Stat. 1207, 15 U.S.C. § 2051 et seq., in order, inter alia, "to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products" and "to assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products." 15 U.S.C. §§ 2051(b)(1) and (2). The CPSA created the Consumer Product Safety Commission (Commission) to carry out the statutory purposes. 15 U.S.C. §-2053. The Commission's powers include the authority to collect and disseminate product safety information, 15 U.S.C. § 2054(a)(1), to conduct research and tests on consumer products, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2054(b)(1) and (2), to promulgate safety standards, 15 U.S.C. § 2056, and to ban hazardous products, 15 U.S.C. § 2057.

Page 105

Section 6 of the CPSA, 86 Stat. 1212, 15 U.S.C. § 2055, regulates the "public disclosure" of information by the Commission. Section 6(b)(1), with which we deal here, requires the Commission, at least 30 days before the public disclosure of information pertaining to a consumer product, to notify the manufacturer and to provide it with a summary of the information to be disclosed, if the product is to be designated or described in such a way as to permit the public to ascertain readily the manufacturer's identity. The manufacturer must be given a reasonable opportunity to submit comments regarding the information. And the Commission must take reasonable steps to assure that such information is accurate and that disclosure is "fair in the circumstances and reasonably related to effectuating the purposes" of the CPSA. If the Commission subsequently finds that it has made public disclosure of inaccurate or misleading information that adversely reflects on a manufacturer's products or practices, the Commission must "publish a retraction" in a manner "similar to that in which such disclosure was made. . . ."2

Page 206

[100 S.Ct. 2055] The relevant facts are set forth in a case decided by this Court earlier this Term, GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union, 445 U.S. 375 (1980), and need not be restated in detail. Briefly, the Commission obtained from respondents various accident reports, most of which were accompanied by claims of confidentiality. The Commission subsequently decided, after receiving Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the Consumers Union of the United States, Inc., and the Public Citizen's Health Research Group (the requesters), to release even those accident reports that were claimed to be confidential. Not surprisingly, lawsuits were soon filed in several Federal District Courts. See GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union, supra at 378, n. 1.

Page 107

The District Court for the District of Delaware ultimately granted respondents' motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoined the Commission from disclosing the submitted accident reports, as well as data compiled on a computer printout from those reports. 443 F.Supp. 1152 (1977).3 The District Court rejected the Commission's contention that § 6(b)(1) applies only when the Commission affirmatively undertakes to disclose information to the public, but not when it merely complies with a request for information under the FOIA. It held that § 6(b)(1) is applicable to disclosures in response to FOIA requests, and that it establishes particular criteria for withholding information, thereby falling within the scope of Exemption 3 of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3). It also found that the Commission failed to comply with § 6(b)(1) procedures in this case. Thus, it concluded that the release of the accident reports would be contrary to the CPSA. 443 F.Supp. at 1162.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. 598 F.2d 790 (1979). After thoroughly examining the language and legislative history of § 6(b)(1), it concluded that

Congress did not intend that provision to apply only to Commission press releases, news conferences, publication of reports and other forms of "affirmative disclosure" of information obtained under the Act.

598 F.2d at 811. Rather,

the information disclosure requirements of the CPSA were [100 S.Ct. 2056] meant to protect manufacturers from the harmful effects of inaccurate or misleading public disclosure by the Commission, through any means, of material obtained pursuant to its broad information-gathering powers. The policies designed to be served by section 6(b)(1) would be severely undermined, if not eviscerated, were the Commission's interpretation to prevail.

Id. at 811-812.

Page 108

Petitioners repeat their contention here that § 6(b)(1) was intended to provide safeguards for the release of information by the Commission only when the Commission makes public disclosures of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP