WLF Attorney Interviewed for FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report Blog Podcast

Attorney Thomas R. Fox, a prominent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) practitioner and author of a forthcoming WLF Legal Opinion Letter, “Is SEC Heading toward a Strict Liability Application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?,” recently interviewed WLF Legal Studies Division Chief Counsel, Glenn Lammi, about WLF’s public interest work and our focus on the FCPA.

 Episode 151-Glenn Lammi, Washington Legal Foundation.

End of the Road in the Long-running “FTC v. Phoebe Putney” Saga

amurinoFeatured Expert Column – Antitrust/Federal Trade Commission

Andrea Agathoklis Murino, Goodwin Proctor LLP

Many months ago, I wrote about the ongoing saga that was the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) attempt to unwind the acquisition of Palmyra Park Hospital (“Palmyra”) by Phoebe Putney Health System Inc. (“Phoebe”) in Albany, Georgia. There were visits to all three levels of the federal court system (yes, even the Supremes!), as well as unexpected detours through various Georgia regulatory bodies. With the FTC’s announcement late last month that it was settling its administrative litigation with a behavioral remedy, we now know how this story ends.

Where We’ve Been

This journey began back in early-2011 with the FTC’s attempt to block the deal outright on the grounds that the combined entity would have had market shares in excess of 85% in the provision of acute care services in a six-county region. The FTC initially secured a preliminary injunction at the district court level but Phoebe successfully argued that despite the concentration levels, its acquisition was legal under the state action doctrine. The state action doctrine provides that where (1) there is a clearly articulated state policy to displace competition and (2) there is active supervision by the state of the policy or activity, otherwise anticompetitive activity will be permitted. Here, Phoebe argued the acquisition was immune under both prongs of the test because it was owned by the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County, and operated under Georgia’s Hospital Authorities Law.

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Two Cheers for the Tenth Circuit’s Temporary Stay of the CPSC’s New Magnet Safety Standard

zen magnetsOn April 1—no joke—the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s troubling new standard for magnet sets was slated to go into effect.  However, thanks to the efforts of the sole remaining distributor of Small Rare Earth Magnets (SREMs) in the United States, Zen Magnets LLC, consumer freedom won a last-minute reprieve.

As companies wishing to challenge final rules of federal agencies may typically do, Zen Magnets filed a stay of enforcement directly in the U.S. Court of Appeals covering its home state, Colorado in this case.  In rapid response to Zen Magnets LLC’s motion for a stay, the Tenth Circuit issued a same-day order to temporarily “stay the enforcement and effect of the Safety Standard for Magnet Sets promulgated by respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission on October 3, 2014, which goes into effect on April 1, 2015.”  In addition, the Court ordered CPSC to file a brief in response on or before today (April 14) “to assist the court in its review of the motion.”

Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Court had to consider four factors in issuing the motion to stay: likelihood of success on the merits; threat of irreparable harm; absence of harm to the government; and risk of harm to the public interest.  Just because the Tenth Circuit has issued the stay does not mean that it has decided the motion to stay enforcement will succeed.  Still, if the Court were convinced that the arguments Zen Magnets has presented in opposition to the Magnet Safety Standard were frivolous or had little chance to prevail, it is unlikely the Court would have issued even a temporary stay.  Since the appeals court’s review marks the first time any entity outside the agency’s purview has had an opportunity to check CPSC’s work, it is encouraging to see the Tenth Circuit forcing the agency to explain its unprecedented actions here. Continue reading

White House Privacy Protection Proposal Sets an Ominous Tone for Future Action

whitehouseSince its release in late February, the White House’s “Discussion Draft: Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2015” has drawn a significant amount of friendly fire from privacy activists and even federal privacy regulators. Their criticism insinuates that the Discussion Draft is at best a floor, a starting point for more stringent regulation. That perspective should be quite troubling to those who work in and benefit from the Internet Economy, for as we discuss below, certain aspects of the draft impose burdens on data use that far outpace any that currently prevail or have been proposed at the federal level.

“Privacy Risk.The data rights and protections the Discussion Draft affords are predicated on consumers suffering a “privacy risk” harm. That harm is defined as “the potential for personal data, on its own or when linked to other information about an individual, to cause emotional distress, or physical, financial, professional or other harm to an individual” (our emphasis). This definition would enshrine into federal law broad, amorphous, and precautionary concepts of harm that are radically out of step with prevailing law. For instance, federal courts have almost uniformly rejected data-privacy-related class-action lawsuits where the injuries alleged reflect plaintiffs’ fears of financial harm or emotional concerns. One very recent example is a Middle District of Pennsylvania ruling, Storm v. Paytime, Inc. and Holt v. Paytime Harrisburg, Inc., in which the court found that plaintiffs who cannot allege harms that are “concrete in both a qualitative and temporal sense” lack standing to sue. An alleged injury that provides the basis for a federal law enforcement action should certainly be no less concrete. Some activists, however, view “privacy risk” as too difficult for consumers or regulators to prove and have called for an even broader concept of injury. Continue reading

Supreme Court Observations: Interpreting “Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association”

supreme courtIn its 1997 decision, Paralyzed Veterans of Am. v. Arena, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit created an important bulwark against federal administrative agency evasion of notice-and-comment rulemaking. Under the “Paralyzed Veterans” doctrine, an agency had to comply with formal (and time-consuming) administrative procedures even when it claimed to be doing nothing more than interpreting existing rules, if the agency was de facto reversing its existing regulations. The Supreme Court’s decision last week in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Assoc. unanimously set aside Paralyzed Veterans. The Court held that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) does not require a regulatory agency to adhere to notice-and-comment rulemaking when it issues a rule interpreting one of its formal regulations.

Largely ignoring the D.C. Circuit’s rationale, the Supreme Court said that it would presume that the 2010 rule was an “interpretive” rule because (supposedly) “the parties litigated this suit on [that] understanding.” The Court said that the text of the APA does not mandate notice-and-comment rulemaking for interpretive rules and that the D.C. Circuit thus erred in adopting an extra-statutory mandate. But by starting with the premise that the 2010 rule was an interpretive rule, the Supreme Court created a straw-man argument never espoused by the D.C. Circuit, which stated explicitly that its decision to strike down the 2010 rule was based on its reading of the text of the relevant APA provisions.

Moreover, the Respondent repeatedly argued before the Supreme Court that the 2010 rule was not an interpretive rule. The Supreme Court’s only response was to note that the Solicitor General premised his certiorari petition on a claim that the D.C. Circuit had mandated notice-and-comment rulemaking for an interpretive rule, and that the Respondent waived the point by failing to dispute the Solicitor General’s claim in its brief opposing the cert petition. But while that response might justify a ruling against the Respondent in this case, it provides no justification for condemning all non-parties subject to the DOL rule, let alone all applications of the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine, which (as the D.C. Circuit decision below made clear) does not assume that challenged rules are interpretive but rather provides a standard for differentiating between substantive and interpretive rules.

The decision nonetheless provides a glimmer of hope to those wishing to challenge rules adopted without adherence to notice-and-comment procedures. The Court’s ruling assumed (incorrectly, it turns out) that the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine was based on the premise that the challenged re-interpretation of existing regulation qualified as an “interpretive rule” under the APA. Thus, Perez arguably imposes no impediment on a litigant who asserts that the challenged rule is “substantive” in nature, not “interpretive.”

Substantive Rules v. Interpretive Rules. The APA requires federal agencies, before they adopt “substantive” rules (a/k/a “legislative” rules), to provide notice of the proposed rule and a meaningful opportunity for members of the public to comment on the proposal. Exempted from the APA’s notice-and-comment requirement are mere “interpretive” rules. Agencies seek to avoid notice-and-comment requirements by deeming as many rule changes as possible interpretive changes; the requirements are burdensome and can delay agency action for months or even years. Yet, despite nearly 70 years of APA litigation, the scope of exempt “interpretive” rules has never been fully pinned down.

The Paralyzed Veterans doctrine was the D.C. Circuit’s principal contribution to that debate. The appeals court held that when an agency issues a definitive interpretation of one of its formal regulations and later seeks to issue a new interpretation that squarely conflicts with the prior interpretation, the new interpretation is a “substantive” rule and thus may not be adopted unless the agency first goes through notice-and-comment rulemaking. The court sensibly reasoned that when an agency seeks to repudiate its initial interpretation, it has in effect amended its formal regulation, and that an agency should not be permitted to “reinterpret” a regulation as a means of evading the formal rulemaking requirements that (everyone agrees) apply whenever an agency amends its regulations. Continue reading

FDA’s Next Gift to the Litigation Industry: A Veritable Ban on Partially Hydrogenated Oils?

sharkIn a recent post, we lampooned the “high trans fat intake consumer” the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) invented to advance its de facto ban of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as being a cross between Augustus Gloop and Homer Simpson. The ramifications of such a PHO ban for many processed food makers and their customers, however, are no laughing matter. Among other things, FDA’s final determination could expose the food industry to an avalanche of lawsuits and potentially billions of dollars in liability costs.

The Current Litigation Environment. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have been working feverishly for the past decade to turn lawsuits against “Big Food” into the next big payday. As chronicled on this blog since its inception in 2011, a small but persistent segment of the Litigation Industry has filed hundreds of class-action lawsuits alleging that everything from a perceived excess of empty space in a bag of chips to the printing of “evaporated cane juice” on a label violates state consumer protection laws.

By Litigation Industry standards, this lawsuit product line has not yet met profit expectations. But the lawsuits have successfully established, especially in California, that private litigants can enforce federal food laws and regulations. Continue reading

Federal Regulators’ Disregard for Sound Science Displayed in Four Agencies’ Actions

4th CircuitHow federal regulators use—and abuse—science in the regulatory process has a profound impact on regulated businesses and consumers who purchase their products and services.  In addition to the financial impact, every time that an agency forces science and the scientific process to serve its ideological or political agendas, rather than be guided by the neutral data, the public becomes less trusting of government pronouncements based on science. Below are some troubling recent examples of regulatory junk science. The first example demonstrates that protections against junk science do exist in the courtroom. The subsequent three examples reflect the lack of similar protections in the rulemaking and adjudication contexts.

Fourth and Sixth Circuits Slap-down EEOC. For the second time in less than a year, a federal appellate court has rebuked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for its use of junk science in accusing an employer of discrimination for conducting criminal background checks in its hiring process. EEOC’s litigation crusade against criminal background checks has faltered since its outset, with federal district court judges in Ohio and Maryland separately dismissing Title VII claims in 2013. Last April, just 20 days after hearing oral argument, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the Ohio trial judge’s decision in EEOC v. Kaplan. The court found the EEOC’s statistical proof of disparate impact—compiled and presented by expert witness Kevin Murphy, an industrial psychologist—unreliable and “based on a homemade methodology” not generally accepted in the scientific community. A WLF Legal Opinion Letter and a WLF Legal Pulse post, both published last spring, offer more detail on the ruling. Continue reading