GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union of the United States, Inc.

PETITIONER: GTE Sylvania, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Consumers Union of the United States, Inc.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DOCKET NO.: 78-1248
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 445 US 375 (1980)
ARGUED: Nov 28, 1979
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1980

ADVOCATES:
Alan B. Morrison - on behalf of the Respondents
Harry L. Shniderman - on behalf of the Petitioners
Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of the Federal Respondent supporting Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union of the United States, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 28, 1979 in GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union of the United States, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 19, 1980 in GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union of the United States, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 1248, GTE Sylvania against the Consumers Union will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The issue presented is whether information may be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act when the agency holding the material has been enjoined from disclosing it by Federal District Court.

In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we hold that an agency enjoined from disclosing information by a Federal District Court has not "improperly" withheld that material under the Freedom of Information Act.

In an investigation of hazards in the operation of televisions, respondent, Consumer Product Safety Commission obtained accident reports from various manufacturers including petitioners.

The respondent, Consumers Union of the United States and Public Citizen's Health Research Group requested disclosure of the reports under the Freedom of Information Act.

The CPSC decided to release the reports and petitioner filed since in various Federal District Courts to enjoin the disclosure.

Those suits were consolidated in the District of Delaware and that Court issued temporary restraining orders, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction to bar disclosure.

After these suits have been filed, the requesters filed the instant action in the District of Columbia Court against CPSC and the petitioners.

The District Court dismissed the complaint concluding that there was no Article 3 case or controversy since the agency agreed with the requesters that the material should be disclosed.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reversed holding that there was a case of controversy and that the injunction handed in Delaware did not foreclose the request to sue.

There is an Article 3 case of converse between the requesters and the CPSC.

The parties clearly disagree under the effect of the Delaware injunction on the rights of the requesters to obtain the reports under the Freedom of Information Act, and this conflict satisfies the requirement of Article 3.

The requesters may not obtain documents in the Freedom of Information Act when that agency possessing the documents had been enjoined.

The FOIA gives District Courts jurisdiction to order the production of improperly without agency records but the withholding is not improper when the CPSC is obeying an injunction issued by a court with jurisdiction.

Since the material was not improperly withheld by the CPSC within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is thereby reversed.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Marshall.