Sunday, November 24, 2013

Consumers Union of the United States v. Consumer Product Safety Commission case brief

Consumers Union of the United States v. Consumer Product Safety Commission case brief summary
590 F.2d 1209 (D.C. Cir. 1978)

Appellant consumer groups challenged, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.S. § 522(a)(3)-(e), appellee commission's failure to disclose data. The court reversed the district court's ruling that no case or controversy was presented as the commission was willing to release the data but for a permanent injunction imposed in a reverse-FOIA suit involving the same data. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded for further consideration.

The consumer groups sought the disclosure of data concerning accidents attributable to the operation of television sets. However, a permanent injunction in a reverse-FOIA action filed by television manufacturers in another court prohibited the commission from releasing such information.


  • On remand, the court held that the reverse-FOIA proceeding began, and the commission was enjoined, before the consumer groups filed their own action seeking disclosure. 
  • By the time the consumer groups filed their action, the district court knew that should the litigation before it continue, a decision contrary to that of the other court might be reached, and that the commission could not possibly comply with each of the conflicting orders. 
  • Thus, none of the familiar anti-relitigation doctrines, including stare decisis, collateral estoppel, and comity, operated to deprive nonparty requesters of their right to sue for enforcement of the FOIA. 
  • Moreover, the consumer groups were not made parties to the reverse-FOIA action, and thus the judgment in that proceeding did not bind them. 
  • Thus, the manufacturers had no valid objection to relitigation of disclosure of the same information.
The court remanded the matter to the district court for reconsideration of the consumer groups request for data under the Freedom of Information Act.

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