GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union,
445 U.S. 375 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union, 445 U.S. 375 (1980)

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

No. 78-1248

Argued November 28, 1979

Decided March 19, 1980

445 U.S. 375


In connection with an investigation of hazards in the operation of television receivers, respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) obtained various accident reports from television manufacturers, including petitioners. Respondents Consumers Union of the United States, Inc., and Public Citizen's Health Research Group (requesters) sought disclosure of the accident reports under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and the CPSC determined that the reports did not fall within any of the FOIA's exemptions and notified the requesters and the manufacturers that it would release the material on a specified date. Petitioners then filed suits in various Federal District Courts to enjoin disclosure of the allegedly confidential reports, which suits were consolidated in the Federal District Court for the District of Delaware. While those suits were pending, the requesters filed the instant action against the CPSC, its Chairman, Commissioners, and Secretary, and petitioners in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking release of the accident reports under the FOIA. That court dismissed the complaint while a motion for a preliminary injunction was still pending in Delaware, observing that the CPSC had assured the court that disclosure would be made as soon as the agency was not enjoined from doing so, and concluding, inter alia, that there was no Art. III case or controversy between the requesters and the federal defendants, and therefore no jurisdiction. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that there was a case or controversy between the requesters and the CPSC as to the scope and effect of the proceedings in Delaware, and that a permanent injunction which meanwhile had been issued in the Delaware proceedings did not foreclose the requesters' FOIA suit.


1. There is a case or controversy as required to establish jurisdiction pursuant to Art. III even though the CPSC agrees with the requesters that the documents should be released under the FOIA. While there is no case or controversy when the parties desire "precisely the same result," here the parties do not desire "precisely the same result," since

Page 445 U. S. 376

the CPSC contends that the Delaware injunction prevents it from releasing the documents, whereas the requesters believe that an equitable decree obtained by the manufacturers in a suit in which the requesters were not parties cannot deprive them of their rights under the FOIA. Pp. 445 U. S. 382-383.

2. Information may not be obtained under the FOIA when the agency holding the material has been enjoined from disclosing it by a federal district court. The Act gives federal district courts jurisdiction to order the production of "improperly" withheld agency records, but here the CPSC has not "improperly" withheld the accident reports. The Act's legislative history shows that Congress was largely concerned with the unjustified suppression of information by agency officials in the exercise of their discretion, but here the CPSC had no discretion to exercise, since its sole basis for not releasing the documents was the injunction issued by the Federal District Court in Delaware. The CPSC was required to obey the injunction out of respect for judicial process, and there is nothing in the legislative history to suggest that Congress intended to require an agency to commit contempt of court in order to release documents. Pp. 445 U. S. 384 387.

192 U.S.App.D.C. 93, 590 F.2d 1209, reversed. MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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