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Between January 2006 and June 2011, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureaus found that 71 percent of the consumer perception surveys introduced by parties to an NAD proceeding were unreliable and, therefore, had little or no impact on the final outcome of case. The NAD’s standards for a well-executed survey are exacting, yet the NAD does not use a set formula to evaluate consumer perception evidence and may find that a survey is either reliable or fatally flawed based upon the survey design, survey questions, and the statistical significance of the survey results. Given the time and resources required to conduct a credible survey, parties to an NAD proceeding should carefully consider the factors that influence the NAD’s analysis of survey evidence.

A new article in Privacy & Consumer Protection Law360, "Not All Surveys Are Created Equal," discusses the primary reasons why the NAD discounts the large majority of consumer perception surveys introduced during challenges, describes the framework by which the NAD analyzes survey evidence, and outlines the survey design characteristics that have the greatest influence on generating a reliable survey.

This week, the FTC issued its proposed revisions to the "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims" (the "Green Guides") and announced that it will be accepting public comment on the Proposed Guides until December 10, 2010. The Green Guides, first issued in 1992 and last revised in 1998, are designed to help businesses ensure that the environmental marketing claims they make are true and substantiated. Although the Green Guides are not legislative rules (and thus not directly enforceable regulations), they are instructive on how the FTC views certain types of environmental marketing claims, and the evidence necessary to support such claims to prevent them from being considered deceptive or unsubstantiated.

The proposed revisions update the existing Guides with respect to claims such as "degradable," "compostable," and "recyclable," and they propose new guidance for claims not currently addressed by the existing Guides. Popular recent environmental claims that receive specific guidance for the first time include "renewable" and "carbon offsets."

The Commission declined to propose definitions or specific guidance for other environmentally-friendly terms such as "sustainable," "natural," "organic," "life cycle assessment," and "biobased." The FTC’s rationale for not giving these terms specific treatment was based in large part on lack of consumer perception data, along with deference to sister agencies’ existing standards and definitions for these terms.

Click here for a summary of the FTC’s changes to the existing Green Guides and its proposed revisions.

Late last night, the Senate unanimously confirmed Edith Ramirez and Julie Brill to fill the two vacant seats on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).1 Ms. Ramirez will replace Republican Deborah Majoras, who stepped down from the Commission in March 2008, and Ms. Brill will replace Independent Pamela Jones Harbour, whose term ended in September 2009. Their positions start immediately upon confirmation. A brief background on each new Commissioner is provided below.

Julie Brill

Since February 2009, Ms. Brill has been a Senior Deputy Attorney General and Chief of the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division for the North Carolina Department of Justice. Prior to joining North Carolina’s Department of Justice, Ms. Brill served as an Assistant Attorney General for the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Divisions for over 20 years. Ms. Brill’s experience at the Vermont Attorney General’s office included a wide-variety of consumer protection litigation, legislative, and regulatory matters in the fields of privacy, credit reporting, financial services, tobacco, food, drugs and other health-related industries. As an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Vermont, Ms. Brill also testified before Congress regarding data security breach legislation and consumer privacy issues.

Ms. Brill has served as a Vice-Chair of the Consumer Protection Committee of the American Bar Association Antitrust Section since 2004 – the ABA committee chaired by John Villafranco (2002 to 2005) of Kelley Drye. She has received several honors for her consumer protection and privacy work, including the National Association of Attorneys General Privacy Subcommittee Award in 2001 for drafting proposed privacy principles, Privacy International’s 2001 Brandies award for work on state and federal privacy issues, and the National Association of Attorneys General Marvin Award in 1995 for her “outstanding leadership, expertise, and achievement in advancing the goals of the association.” Additionally, she is also a Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School.

Before beginning her career in law enforcement, Ms. Brill was an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York and she clerked for Vermont Federal District Court Judge Franklin S. Billings Jr. Ms. Brill is a graduate of New York University School of Law, where she received a Root-Tilden Scholarship for her commitment to public service. She received her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University.

Edith Ramirez

Ms. Ramirez is currently a partner in the Los Angeles office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, LLP where she specializes in intellectual property and complex business litigation matters. She has represented a diverse range of clients in actions involving copyright and trademark infringement, antitrust and unfair competition claims, business tort, and other general business litigation cases. Notable litigation includes Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co. v. United Air Lines, Inc., where Ms. Ramirez successfully represented Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction on breach of contract claims, and Christian v. Mattel, Inc., where Ms. Ramirez helped obtain a $500,000 sanction against Mattel’s opposing counsel pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for filing a frivolous copyright infringement action against Mattel. Ms. Ramirez has also represented American Broadcasting Companies, The Walt Disney Company, The Scotts Company, and Northrop Grumman in a variety of intellectual property, antitrust, and contract litigation matters.

Ms. Ramirez is also involved with a number of community outreach activities. She has served as the Vice President on the Board of Commissioners for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a member of the Board of Directors for Volunteers of America, and the California Deputy Political Director and Director of Latino Outreach for Obama for America.

Previously, Ms. Ramirez served as a law clerk to the Honorable Alfred T. Goodwin, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She also worked as an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP. Ms. Ramirez attended Harvard Law School, where she was an editor for the Harvard Law Review, and she received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard-Radcliffe College.

1  http://senatus.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/nominations-confirmed-march-3/

The Federal Trade Commission told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Thursday, February 4, 2010, that additional law enforcement powers would allow the agency to protect consumers more effectively.

While much of the testimony detailed the FTC’s efforts to protect consumers from financial fraud that has occurred in connection with the downturn in the economy, the additional powers sought by the FTC would enhance its ability to protect consumers for any violation of one of the laws that it enforces.  The agency encouraged Congress for authority:

  1. to use more efficient rulemaking procedures to address consumer protection issues and enhance the agency’s ability to stop financial fraud;
  2. to seek civil penalties for violations of the FTC Act rather than just rules or orders that have already been promulgated;
  3. to act against those who assist others they know, or consciously avoid knowing, are engaged in unfair or deceptive practices under the FTC Act; and
  4. to prosecute civil penalty cases in federal court in its own name so that it can bring cases more quickly and more effectively.

Interestingly, Commissioner Kovacic dissented from the Commission’s endorsement of authority to use, for promulgating all rules respecting unfair or deceptive acts or practices under the FTC Act, the notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). While other agencies have the authority to issue significant rules following notice and comment procedures, Commissioner Kovacic stated that the Commission’s rulemaking authority is unique in its range of subject matter (unfair or deceptive acts or practices) and sectors (reaching across the economy, except for specific, albeit significant, carve-outs). Except where Congress has given the Commission a more focused mandate to address particular problems, beyond the FTC Act’s broad prohibition of unfair or deceptive acts or practices, Commissioner Kovacic believes it prudent to retain procedures beyond those encompassed in the APA. However, he supports sector-specific APA rulemaking to promulgate rules that set forth unfair or deceptive acts or practices relating to all financial services. Further, he would be willing to consider more generally whether all the procedures currently required to issue, repeal, or amend rules issued under the FTC Act are necessary.

Commissioner Kovacic also dissented from the Commission’s endorsement of across-the-board civil penalty authority.  Commissioner Kovacic believes that the existing consequences attendant to a finding that an act or practice is unfair or deceptive under the FTC Act are generally appropriate remedies, and they are consistent with the goal of developing FTC law to develop new doctrine and to reach new and emerging problems. In his view, the routine availability of civil penalties, even if subject to a scienter requirement, would risk constraining the development of doctrine, much as judicial concerns about the availability of private litigation with mandatory treble damages appear to be constraining the development of antitrust doctrine.  Commissioner Kovacic would prefer that Congress grant more targeted authority to seek civil penalties, perhaps including civil penalty authority where financial services are involved, and particularly including civil penalty authority in matters where existing remedies are likely to be inadequate.

Regarding President Obama’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the testimony expressed FTC support for the goal of making consumer financial protection more effective while ensuring that the FTC’s authority and ability to protect consumers remains uneroded and clear. The FTC told Congress that it should remain active and effective in policing financial and nonfinancial products and services.  Commissioner Kovacic and Commissioner Rosch recommended, perhaps as an alternative to creating a new agency to perform the federal banking agencies’ current consumer protection functions, that the Committee consider a model by which consumer protection with respect to banks and other depository institutions would be enhanced by providing the Commission with a role in protecting consumers of depository institutions. Such expansion of the Commission’s consumer protection role would require a concomitant increase in the Commission’s resources to ensure the continuing excellence of its enforcement record.