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U.S. Supreme Court

FCC v. ITT World Communications, Inc., 466 U.S. 463 (1984)

Federal Communications Commission v.

ITT World Communications, Inc.

No. 83-371

Argued March 21, 1984

Decided April 30, 1984

466 U.S. 463


The Government, in the Sunshine Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552b(b), requires that "meetings" of a federal agency be open to the public. Section 552b(a)(2) defines a "meeting" as

"the deliberations of at least the number of individual agency members required to take action on behalf of the agency where such deliberations determine or result in the joint conduct or disposition of official agency business."

Members of petitioner Federal Communications Commission (FCC) participate with their European and Canadian counterparts in the Consultative Process, a series of conferences intended to facilitate joint planning of telecommunications facilities through exchange of information or regulatory policies. In this case, three FCC members who constituted a quorum of the FCC's Telecommunications Committee, a subdivision of the FCC, attended such conferences at which they were to attempt to persuade the European nations to cooperate with the FCC in encouraging competition in the overseas telecommunications market. Respondents, who at the time, along with another corporation, were the only American corporations that provided overseas record telecommunications and who opposed the entry of new competitors, filed a rulemaking petition with the FCC requesting it to disclaim any intent to negotiate with foreign governments or to bind it to agreements at the conferences. Respondents alleged that such negotiations were ultra vires the FCC's authority and that, moreover, the Sunshine Act required the Consultative Process to be held in public. The FCC denied the petition. Respondent ITT World Communications, Inc., then filed suit in Federal District Court, similarly alleging that the FCC's negotiations with foreign officials at the Consultative Process were ultra vires the agency's authority, and that future meetings of the Consultative Process must conform to the Sunshine Act's requirements. The District Court dismissed the ultra vires count on jurisdictional grounds, but ordered the FCC to comply with the Sunshine Act. Considering on consolidated appeal the District Court's judgment and the FCC's denial of the rulemaking petition, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling that the Sunshine Act applied to meetings of the Consultative Process, but reversed the District Court's dismissal of the ultra vires count, and further held that the FCC had erroneously denied the rulemaking petition.

Page 466 U. S. 464


1. The District Court lacked jurisdiction over respondent's ultra vires claim. Exclusive jurisdiction for review of final FCC orders, such as the FCC's denial of respondents' rulemaking petition, lies by statute in the Court of Appeals. Litigants may not evade this requirement by requesting the District Court to enjoin action that is the outcome of the agency's order. Yet that is what respondents sought to do, since, in substance, the complaint in the District Court raised the same issues and sought to enforce the same restrictions upon FCC conduct as did the rulemaking petition that was denied by the FCC. Pp. 466 U. S. 468-469.

2. The Sunshine Act does not require that Consultative Process sessions be held in public. Pp. 466 U. S. 469-474.

(a) Such sessions do not constitute a "meeting" as defined by § 552b(a)(2). The Sunshine Act does not extend to deliberations of a quorum of a subdivision upon matters not within the subdivision's formally delegated authority. Such deliberations lawfully could not "determine or result in the joint conduct or disposition of official agency business" within the meaning of the Act. Here, the Telecommunications Committee at the Consultative Process session did not consider or act upon applications for common carrier certification, its only formally delegated authority. Pp. 466 U. S. 469-473.

(b) Nor were the sessions in question a meeting "of an agency" within the meaning of the Sunshine Act. The Consultative Process was not convened by the FCC, and its procedures were not subject to the FCC's unilateral control. Pp. 466 U. S. 473-474.

6 U.S.App.D.C. 67, 699 F.2d 1219, reversed and remanded.

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

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