CPSC V. GTE SYLVANIA, INC., 447 U. S. 102 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

CPSC v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102 (1980)

Consumer Product Safety Commission v. GTE Sylvania, Inc.

No. 79-521

Argued April 14, 1980

Decided June 9, 1980

447 U.S. 102


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. 447 U. S. 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 447 U. S. 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. 447 U. S. 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. 447 U. S. 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. 447 U. S. 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 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. 447 U. S. 123-124.

598 F.2d 790, affirmed.

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

Page 447 U. S. 104

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