Q: It has been nearly a year since the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC foreclosed the FTC’s ability to pursue monetary remedies under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act.  How has AMG affected the FTC’s enforcement program, particularly in consumer protection cases? 

A: As an initial matter, it’s Important to emphasize that the Supreme Court did not take any authority away from the FTC; it concluded 9-0 that the FTC did not have the authority in the first place.  Justice Breyer put it this way: Section 13(b) produces a “coherent enforcement scheme. The Commission may obtain monetary relief by first invoking its administrative procedures and then Section 19’s redress provisions; it can use Section 13(b) to obtain injunctive relief while administrative proceedings are foreseen or in progress, or when it seeks only injunctive relief.”

The inability to obtain equitable monetary relief under Section 13(b) has taken away the FTC’s weapon of choice, but it has not left it without other means to carry the attack, and it continues to push the boundaries of its authority.  Chair Khan has made clear that it will litigate on principle, and that often means without regard for litigation risk.  In many ways, the agency is less predictable and, from a respondent’s or defendant’s perspective, dangerous. I had expected more restraint, given the AMG decision.

During oral argument, Justice Kavanaugh commented that, as former Executive Branch employee, he understands how “with good intentions the agency pushes the envelope and stretches the statutory language to do the good or prevent the bad – the problem is it results in a transfer of power from Congress to the Executive Branch.”

I heard something similar from Commissioner Wilson, in her concurring opinion in Resident Home.  There, she said that AMG “should have been a wake-up call, a reminder to the Commission that, no matter how egregious the conduct or righteous our cause, the Commission is not entitled to go beyond the bounds of what the law permits.” Despite these warnings, in response to AMG, continues to explore the frontiers of its authority.

This means that the FTC has assumed an aggressive adversarial position, using all means at its disposal in an attempt to redress what it perceives to be consumer injury, even if it means advancing a litigation position that is ultimately unsuccessful.  In short, I doubt that companies currently adverse to the FTC consider the agency to be compromised to any significant extent – in many ways, it is emboldened.
Continue Reading ABA Antitrust Spring Meeting: John Villafranco On Monetary Redress and FTC Enforcement Post-AMG