Appeals Court Rebuffs EPA Attempt to Expand Its Regulatory Power

In a clear win for separation of powers and limited agency discretion, the D.C. Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a company that challenged an EPA regulatory action issued in 2015 to require industry to replace its use of hydrofluorocarbons (“HFCs”). The Court found that “the fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, and thus Section 612 would not seem to grant EPA authority to require replacement of HFCs.” This logic was supported by the EPA itself prior to 2015 when the agency openly deemed hydrofluorocarbons acceptable. But EPA reversed course in 2015 and concluded that some HFCs “could no longer be used by manufacturers in certain products, even if the manufacturers had long since replaced ozone-depleting substances with HFCs in accordance with the law.” EPA attempted to justify its position by classifying hydrofluorocarbons as a contributor to climate change.

The Majority opinion stated:

“Supreme Court cases that have dealt with EPA’s efforts to address climate change have taught us two lessons that are worth repeating here. First, EPA’s well-intentioned policy objectives with respect to climate change do not on their own authorize the agency to regulate. The agency must have statutory authority for the regulations it wants to issue. Second, Congress’s failure to enact general climate change legislation does not authorize EPA to act. Under the Constitution, congressional inaction does not license an agency to take matters into its own hands, even to solve a pressing policy issue such as climate change.”

The Court found that EPA’s legal interpretation to be “inconsistent with the statute as written,” and therefore vacated the 2015 Rule. The Court’s opinion speaks to the need for federal agencies to respect the separation of powers required by the U.S. Constitution and highlights the Judiciary’s important role to intervene when an agency oversteps its statutory authority.

Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has repeatedly stressed this point in matters involving other rogue federal agencies.  For example, in a recent amicus curiae brief filed in support of a business facing a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) that we do not believe the FTC has statutory authority to bring, we argued:

“CoA is concerned that this case is part of an emerging pattern of ultra vires, unconstitutional FTC enforcement actions grounded in a fundamental error of statutory interpretation—specifically, the FTC’s apparent belief that it need not wait for Congress to pass legislation giving it permission to regulate broad swaths of the economy, so long as the FTC’s actions reflect its subjective vision of enlightened public policy—that not only flips basic administrative law on its head, but threatens the separation of powers vital to liberty.”

No agency can arrogate to itself legislative powers Article I of the Constitution reserves for Congress, no matter how important an agency thinks its policy aims might be.

Patrick Massari is Assistant Vice President at Cause of Action Institute

Can FTC Ignore the Law to Expand its Power to Regulate Internet Providers?

Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the Court”) brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in FTC v. AT&T Mobility LLC (“AT&T”) in support of AT&T during the pendency of rehearing en banc of an appeal regarding whether the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”) has statutory authority to regulate common carriers such as Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) and telephone companies under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

In September 2016, a unanimous three-judge Panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that because the plain language of the FTC Act categorically exempts common carriers like AT&T from FTC regulation under Section 5, the FTC lacks statutory authority to regulate businesses like AT&T. (Instead, such businesses are regulated by a different federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) under a different federal statute, the Communications Act.)  Consistent with the judicial role and respect for the separation of powers, the Panel explained that “[i]t is not for us to rewrite the statute so that it covers only what we think is necessary to achieve what we think Congress really intended.  That is a job for Congress, not the courts.”

The FTC subsequently filed a petition for rehearing en banc supported by a number of “friend of the Court” briefs arguing that the full Ninth Circuit should vacate the Panel decision and rehear the case because, among other things, the Panel decision was inconsistent with their views regarding sound public policy and left a supposed “regulatory gap” that the FTC should be allowed to “fill.” On May 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit granted the FTC’s petition.

Concerned about this development, our brief argues that the Court should decide the case the same way the Panel did; that is, calling balls and strikes and deciding the case based on the statute’s plain text rather than a federal agency’s subjective views on what it thinks is enlightened public policy for the entire country. Our brief argues that such an approach respects Congress’s legislative role under Article I of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the separation of powers.  That is because under the U.S. Constitution only the People’s elected representatives in Congress—not a federal agency like the FTC or FCC and not a federal Court—are allowed to rewrite federal law in response to public policy arguments.

As our brief also notes at pages 3-4: “CoA’s interest in this case also stems from its view that, regardless of whether the FTC’s policy goals are sound, the FTC has now “spun out of the known legal universe and … [is] now orbiting alone in some cold, dark corner of a far-off galaxy, where no one can hear the scream ‘separation of powers.’”

These fitting words, describing FTC’s recent forays in Art. III Courts under Section 5, are not hyperbole, but instead reflect a very disturbing reality. FTC’s self-appointed mantle as perverse executive-agency posse comitatus, a poseur arrogant and lawless unto itself, whose overreach and overregulation do not serve the American people or the public interest.

The full brief can be found here.

Patrick Massari is assistant vice president at Cause of Action Institute

Court Orders Dismissal of D-Link Corp. from FTC Data Security Case

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. District Judge James Donato has instructed the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to dismiss Taiwan-based D-Link Corporation (“D-Link Corp.”) from a case brought by the FTC in the U.S. District Court for Northern District of California involving unfounded allegations as to security practices for routers and IP cameras. On April 3, 2017, D-Link Corp. filed a motion to dismiss the case because the Court lacked jurisdiction over the company. FTC’s dismissal of D-Link Corp. renders that motion moot. The case will now proceed with California-based D-Link Systems, Inc. as the sole Defendant.

Cause of Action Institute Assistant Vice President Patrick Massari: “The FTC sued a Taiwanese-based corporation without any factual predicate or consumer victims, real or imagined, exceeding the bounds of its regulatory authority. We are grateful for the Court’s directive and pleased with this resolution of issues raised by D-Link Corp.’s motion to dismiss.  We look forward to continuing to vigorously defend this case on behalf of D-Link Systems, Inc.”


In early January, the FTC filed a complaint against D-Link Systems Inc. and D-Link Corp. The complaint makes vague and unsubstantiated allegations, without asserting a single data breach of any product sold in the U.S. by either company. Instead, the FTC’s complaint relies on unspecified press reports and mere speculation that consumers were placed “at risk,” but fails to allege, as it must, that consumers suffered or are likely to suffer actual or substantial injury. D-Link Systems continues to stand behind its products and maintains a robust range of procedures to address potential security vulnerabilities.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications: