Federal Communications Commission v. ITT World Communications, Inc.

PETITIONER: Federal Communications Commission
RESPONDENT: ITT World Communications, Inc.
LOCATION: Alpha House

DOCKET NO.: 83-371
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 463 (1984)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 30, 1984

ADVOCATES:
Albert G. Lauber, Jr. - on behalf of Petitioners
Grant S. Lewis - on behalf of Respondents

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Federal Communications Commission v. ITT World Communications, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1984 in Federal Communications Commission v. ITT World Communications, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Federal Communications Commission against ITT World Communications, Incorporated.

Mr. Lauber, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This case arose out of a multinational telecommunications conference held in Dublin, Ireland, in 1979.

That conference was attended by representatives of six European nations, of Canada, and by three members of our Federal Communications Commission.

Respondent ITT believes that the three attending Commissioners had engaged at Dublin in certain discussions that were hurtful to ITT's financial interest.

In particular, ITT suspected that the three attending Commissioners had tried to encourage their European counterparts to enter into operating agreements with two American companies that the FCC had recently authorized to compete with ITT in the Atlantic market.

Accordingly, ITT launched a three-pronged attack designed to prevent such discussions from happening again.

First, it filed a rulemaking petition with the FCC challenging the authority of the attending Commissioners to take part in the kind of discussion held in Dublin and seeking the promulgation of rules to govern any future multinational conferences if any were in fact held.

Secondly, ITT filed a complaint in the district court which also challenged the authority of the Commissioners to take part in the kinds of discussions held in Dublin and which sought declaratory and injunctive relief against such asserted ultra vires conduct in the future.

And third, in a different count of the district court complaint, ITT contended that the Dublin gathering and other European gatherings were meetings of the FCC within the meaning of the Sunshine Act and that those gatherings therefore had to be open to the European public and be governed by all of the other procedural requirements that the Sunshine Act imposes.

The case as it comes here presents two questions.

The first concerns the jurisdiction of the district court to entertain ITT's charge that the Commission had engaged in ultra vires conduct.

The second question concerns the proper construction of the Sunshine Act.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

May I raise a preliminary inquiry, I understand now from the reply brief that your office filed that the Telecommunications Committee has now been eliminated?

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

It's been disbanded, that's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And also, the number of Commissioners has been reduced from seven to five?

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

From seven to five, right.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is there any question of movement now on the Sunshine Act issue?

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

I don't think there is, Justice O'Connor, because the FCC has scheduled additional conferences.

There is one meant to be held in Toronto next month, and they plan to attend.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

At least three of the Commissioners plan to attend?

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

Well, that may depend on what the Court decides, who goes.

But since the Commission intends to have future consultations, I think the problem is likely to arise again.

I would like to address the jurisdictional question very briefly first.

Our position here is that the district court had no jurisdiction to consider ITT's charges of ultra vires conduct by the Commission, because ITT had already submitted that same ultra vires argument to the Commission in its petition for rulemaking.

The Commission considered that ultra vires charge in denying the petition for rulemaking.

That denial was a final order of the FCC and under Section 402(a) of the Communications Act exclusive jurisdiction to review that final order lay in the Court of Appeals.

William H. Rehnquist:

Do you say the district court would have had no jurisdiction, Mr. Lauber, even had the ITT not submitted the matter to the Commission?

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

Well, I guess I have two answers to that.