Flexing the Agency’s Muscles: What FTC Notice of Penalty Offenses Really Means for AdvertisersOver the last ten days, 700 companies and 70 for-profit colleges received notice of the FTC’s intent to pursue civil penalties under Section 5(m)(1)(b), if these companies and colleges engage in certain conduct deemed by the FTC to be unfair or deceptive.  The notices sought to achieve two important Agency objectives: first, force addressees

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2668, the Consumer Protection and Recovery Act, to clarify the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement authority under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. H.R. 2668, authored by Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), would explicitly authorize the FTC to seek permanent injunctions and other equitable relief, including

13(b)Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a letter to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Congressional Committee currently working on draft language for a new Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. The Chamber’s letter cautions Congress to ensure that any new statutory language not give the FTC too much authority. In advocating caution, the Chamber makes an important, if subtle, point. The FTC is now arguing that the Supreme Court “took away” 13(b) powers it had before. In reality, though, the Supreme Court in AMG explained that FTC never had the power it arrogated in the first place.

The Chamber’s letter noted that the legislative history of the FTC Act requires the Commission to use Section 19’s administrative processes to obtain monetary relief for past violations. There is no reason that Congress should provide the FTC with additional powers, according to the Chamber, when the FTC already has an avenue to seek monetary relief.

The Chamber’s argument here largely mimics the position of Justice Breyer, who authored the AMG decision from a unanimous Court, concluding that the current version of 13(b) does not allow monetary relief. In AMG, Justice Breyer explained that “[t]he Commission may obtain monetary relief by first invoking its administrative procedures and then § 19’s redress provisions (which include limitations) . . . By contrast, the Commission’s broad reading would allow it to use §13(b) as a substitute for §5 and §19.”

The Chamber’s letter urged Congress not to upset the fine balance the FTC Act originally envisioned. While the Chamber agreed that the FTC should be able to go immediately to Court “to seek appropriate equitable monetary relief for clearly fraudulent cases that are found to be in violation of the law,” it explained that “[m]onetary relief should not be available for every consumer protection violation but should be reserved for the most egregious types of cases.”
Continue Reading Acting Chair Rebecca Slaughter and Chamber of Commerce Spar Over a New 13(b)