UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
April 4, 1972
National Petroleum Refiners Assn., et al.
Federal Trade Commission, et al.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON
ROBINSON, D. J.:
This suit questions the authority of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to promulgate Trade Regulation Rules pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq. (1971). It is a case of "first impression," no other courts having directly considered the issue.
The FTC announced, on July 30, 1969, that it intended to issue a Trade Regulation Rule declaring that failure to post octane numbers on gasoline pumps at service stations would be an "unfair method of competition" and a "deceptive practice," constituting a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45 (1971) (hereinafter FTCA).
On December 30, 1970, the Commission issued such a Rule;
extended the effective date of the Rule on April 13, 1971 for the purpose of considering a revision thereof; withdrew the effective date
and proposed an alternative Rule on August 19, 1971;
and on December 9, 1971 issued a revised Rule in this respect that was to be effective March 15, 1972
but for a stay entered by this Court.
This Rule, in simple fashion, makes the failure to post octane numbers an "unfair method of competition" and an unfair or "deceptive act" or practice without the necessity of further proof. Plaintiffs here contend that the Commission lacks statutory authority to promulgate this Rule.
The Court need not consider the several other contentions raised by the Plaintiffs, for the answer reached here pretermits all other issues. For the reasons set forth below, that to this Court are persuasive, it is held that the FTC lacks the requisite statutory authority to issue Trade Regulation Rules.
Initially, one considers that the FTC is materially distinct from other administrative bodies. The FTC was created with the express purpose that it be a purely investigative body. This factor distinguishes the FTC from other agencies that are regulatory in nature. Recognizing that the FTC might serve a more vital function, Congress appended to FTC's investigatory powers, quasi-judicial authority to file complaints, hold hearings, afford due process and determine, based upon a finding of fact, whether violations of the FTCA had or were occurring. The determination having been made that a violation existed, the FTC was granted cease and desist power to correct and prevent their continuance. Judicial review of cease and desist orders was specifically provided for to the Courts of Appeals. These quasi-judicial powers are laid out separately in Section 5 of the FTCA.
The investigative powers of the FTC are expressed in Section 6 of the FTCA.
There is only one reference in the FTCA that speaks to the issuance of rules and regulations. The FTC relies heavily upon its substance and it states:
The Commission shall also have power --
. . . .
(g) From time to time to classify corporations and to make rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of sections 41-46 and 47-58 of this title.
This clause is located in Section 6 of the FTCA where the investigative powers are conferred.
While the authority at issue may at first impression be thought to fall within this section, to issue rules and regulations concerning deceptive or unfair trade practices or competition, both the context of Section 6(g) and the legislative history accompanying it demonstrate that this particular authority was not, nor has it been, granted.
The history of this section is clear. Section 6(g) of this Act was intended only as an authorization for internal rules of organization, practice, and procedure. The section was to insure that the FTC had the power to require reports from all corporations.
Section 6(g) of the FTCA originated in Section 7 of the House Bill of 1914 that conferred only investigative powers on the Commission.
This House Bill did not contain provisions analogous to Section 5 of the Statute, as enacted, that conferred adjudicative authority upon the FTC. This is because the House Bill considered the FTC as an investigative body. Thus, the rulemaking grant in Section 6(g) could only have been intended as an adjunct to the Commission's investigative powers. Supportive of this analysis is the fact that the Senate version of this FTCA made no provision whatever for the promulgation of rules and regulations in any context. Therefore, the only provisions concerning rules and regulations that were considered by the Conference Committee and the Congress stem from the House Bill. The existence of Section 6(g) in this statute could only pertain to housekeeping or procedural matters, as under the House Bill, the Commission had no authority to prescribe unfair, deceptive, or anti-competitive business practices.
The House Bill conferred only investigative powers.
Notably, when the Senate Bill's provision enabling the Commission to institute adjudicative proceedings to prevent unfair methods of competition was added, there was no indication that Section 6(g) rulemaking authority was intended to extend to this new area affixed by the Senate Bill in such a way as to circumvent the extensive due process procedures expressly provided for in Section 5 of the FTCA. Despite several amendments to the Act, no indication of such an intent has since been expressed.
Significantly, Congress refused to amend its proposals on two separate occasions that would have granted the Commission the very rulemaking power it now seeks to exercise.
In addition to the provisions of Section 6(g), the Amendment offered by Congressman Lafferty urged that the Commission be given the power to "make, alter, or repeal regulations further defining more particularly unfair trade practices or unfair or oppressive competition."
Thus, when Sections 6(g) and 5 were first proposed, Congress felt that an explicit grant of legislative authority was necessary, other than 6(g), to grant substantive rulemaking powers to the FTC. This Congress consistently refused to permit.
Section 6(g) has remained unchanged since 1914, and it is still located in Section 6 of the Act among the Commission's other investigative powers.
If Congress at any time had intended to confer upon the Commission the authority to prescribe substantive law in such a manner as to vitiate the substantial procedural safeguards specified in the Act itself, there certainly would be some reference to this extraordinary grant of power in the Act or the legislative history. The fact that there is none lends credence to the conclusion that the Commission has no substantive, legislative rulemaking authority under the FTCA.
It is important, also, to consider the fact that the FTC, for approximately 50 years from the passage of the FTCA, never asserted the authority it claims to have always possessed. This indicia points to the fact that the FTC knew it was not originally granted this rulemaking authority.
Another critical analytical factor is that where Congress intended to grant substantive rulemaking authority to the FTC, it has done so clearly and unequivocally.
In each of those instances Congress felt the need to specifically authorize the Commission to issue substantive rules.
These examples of specific authorization would be "a meaningless and superfluous legislative gesture" if the Commission had had the authority it now claims was given it in 1914.
The fact that Congress particularized the grant of substantive rulemaking power in these narrowly circumscribed statutes and yet did not do so with respect to the Federal Trade Commission Act, that deals, not with consumer labeling, but with "competition" generally in all its many aspects, makes clear that Congress did not intend the Commission to have such powers under the latter statute.
This conclusion is further substantiated by the history of the Flammable Fabrics Act. Unlike the Wool, the Fur, and the Textile Fiber Acts, the general rulemaking power granted the Commission in the Flammable Fabrics Act did not specify the subjects upon which rules could be issued, nor did it contain an express provision that a violation of rules promulgated would constitute a violation of the FTCA.
It provided only that the Commission could make, "such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper for purposes of administration and enforcement of (the Act),"
i.e., in language similar to that of Section 6(g) of the FTCA. In 1967, however, Congress amended the Flammable Fabrics Act
to specifically provide that the Commission could issue rules requiring the "maintenance of records relating to fabrics, related materials, and products" and the following language was added by Congress to that provision:
The violation of such rules and regulations shall be unlawful and shall be an unfair method of competition and an unfair and deceptive act or practice, in commerce, under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The purpose of that amendment, according to the Report of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, was to "make the Flammable Fabrics Act more flexible by permitting flammability standards and other regulations to be issued under rulemaking procedures rather than having them fixed by law as is now the case."
The report explained further that, under the amended Flammable Fabrics Act, the Commission was authorized "to establish regulations for recordkeeping" and that "violation of any such regulation would be an unfair trade practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act."
The original language of the Flammable Fabrics Act was in pari materia to Section 6(g) of the FTCA.
Nevertheless, Congress felt the need to amend the statutes to give the Commission the power to include "provisions for maintenance of records relating to fabrics, related materials, and products," and the further need to amend the statutes to provide that violations of such rules would constitute a violation of Section 5.
Logic compels a similar need to spell out substantive rulemaking authority in the case of Section 6(g) before such authority can be said to exist. Congress has not done so.
The Commission's claim of unlimited rulemaking power under the FTCA is, therefore, not only unsupported by anything in that Act itself, or its legislative history, but is also inconsistent with the history of other statutes entrusted to the Commission's administration by Congress.
The Federal Trade Commission further argues that the words "rules and regulations" in Section 6(g) are to be defined as they are in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA): "The whole or a part of an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy . . . ."
The Federal Trade Commission Act was passed in 1914. The APA was passed in 1946. It is inconceivable to this Court that those words, when written and considered by Congress in 1914, can have the same exact meaning as those words carry today via the 1946 APA. There exists no cross reference or other legal relationship between these words in their respective statutes. The APA gave a specialized construction to these words. Congress recognized this special meaning by amending the National Labor Relations Act, also passed before the APA, to read, "to make . . . in the manner prescribed by the Administrative Procedure Act, such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this subchapter."
Congress, however, did not make a similar amendment to the Federal Trade Commission Act. The inference, therefore, is that Congress did not expect the FTC to engage in substantive rulemaking in the manner prescribed by the APA. The rulemaking power in Section 6(g) of the FTCA remains unchanged by Congress to date, and conveys only the authority to make such rules and regulations in connection with its housekeeping chore and investigative responsibilities.
The Commission further contends that Section 5(a)(6) of the Act, that authorizes it to "prevent" unfair methods of competition, constitutes implied rulemaking power. In making this argument, the Commission ignores Section 5(b), the very next paragraph of the statute that requires the Commission to conduct adjudicative proceedings. General rules of statutory construction and the scheme of the FTCA itself demonstrate that the mandate of Section 5(a)(6) is to be carried out by means of adjudicative process specified in Section 5(b).
Moreover, the Supreme Court has expressly stated that the FTCA must "be read as an integrated whole."
Thus, the FTC's claim is patently untenable. If the legislative history of the Act will not permit the issuance of Trade Regulation Rules under the only section explicitly granting the Commission rulemaking authority, such sweeping authority cannot be based upon an implied grant of power in some other section of the Act or in the Act as a whole. In the face of an overwhelmingly contrary legislative history, there must be some basis for granting an agency unprecedented and far-reaching rulemaking power other than the claim of the agency itself that such power is necessary or desirable for its more efficient operation. The only support, however, for the Commission's novel theory of statutory construction is its own words. While the courts may have sustained imprecise grants of rulemaking power in some instances, they have never done so in the face of an overwhelmingly contrary legislative history, such as that of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The record amply reflects that the Commission itself has repeatedly admitted that it has no power to promulgate substantive rules of law
and Congress has implicitly rejected the efficacy of Commission Trade Regulation Rules by legislatively superseding them.
Moreover, the Supreme Court has impliedly rejected the Commission's claim of rulemaking power, as have many of the legal commentators.
The Court has considered fully all the other arguments put forth by the FTC in this suit. The sum total of their argument is a "bootstrap" operation, designed to conclude that the FTC possesses powers that it clearly does not have. The famous stricture of Mr. Justice Brandeis applies here:
What the Government asks is not a construction of the statute, but, in effect, an enlargement of it by the court, so that what was omitted, presumably by inadvertence, may be included within its scope. To supply omissions transcends the judicial function.
It is therefore the conclusion of this Court, that for the above stated reasons, the statute (FTCA) does not confer upon the Federal Trade Commission the authority to promulgate Trade Regulation Rules that have the effect of substantive law.
Plaintiffs' motion for Summary Judgment is hereby granted.
Defendants' motion for Summary Judgment is hereby denied.