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Ayuda, Inc. v. FTC

United States District Court for the District of Columbia

September 30, 2014, Decided; September 30, 2014, Filed

Civil Action No.: 13-1266 (RC)

Opinion

 [*253]  MEMORANDUM OPINION

Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; and Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

Ayuda, Inc., Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and  [*254]  Legal Aid Justice Center (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq., against the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") seeking information from the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database, which is an online repository containing millions of consumer complaints about alleged illegal business activity. The FTC moves for summary judgment on all four of Plaintiffs' FOIA causes of action, as well as for dismissal based on failure [**2]  to exhaust administrative remedies as to Plaintiffs' request for information contained in the "Company Address, Zip Code Extension" data field. Plaintiffs cross-move for partial summary judgment on the FOIA claims in Counts I, II, and III as to the release of Consumer Sentinel database complaints that were received by the FTC through its telephone complaint line. Upon consideration of the parties' motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, and the evidentiary record submitted by both parties to supplement their summary judgment filings, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the FTC's motion, and deny Plaintiffs' motion.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The FTC and the Consumer Sentinel Database

The FTC is the federal agency with principal responsibility for protecting consumers from deceptive and unfair trade practices. See Stearns II Decl. ¶ 3. The agency's responsibilities include enforcing the FTC Act, the federal antitrust laws, and dozens of other federal statutes. See id. This litigation arose following three FOIA requests from Plaintiffs, a collection of non-profit entities,1 to the FTC seeking the release of information contained in the agency's Consumer Sentinel [**3]  database, which is a secure online repository containing roughly twenty million consumer complaints about alleged illegal business activity. See id. ¶ 4. The Consumer Sentinel database is maintained by a contractor, Lockheed Martin, see Rushen Decl. ¶ 2, and it is composed of three separate databases: (1) identity theft complaints; (2) complaints regarding the Do Not Call Registry; and (3) complaints regarding fraud and other consumer issues. See Stearns Decl. ¶ 4. There are two types of data fields within the Consumer Sentinel database: "free-form" fields, in which there is no limit on the type of information that can be entered; and "non-free-form" fields, in which the type of information is limited by pre-set options. See id. ¶ 11.

Complaints enter the Consumer Sentinel database in several different ways. Of note for purposes of this case, complaints are either submitted directly by consumers through the FTC's website, entered by an FTC operator in response to calls from consumers on the FTC's telephone complaint line, or transferred from independent online services provided by other governmental and private entities, including the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the Econsumer.gov website. See id. ¶¶ 4, 18-19;  [*255]  James II Decl. ¶¶ 2-3. In 2013, approximately 60% of complaints filed directly with the FTC were submitted by consumers contacting the FTC's telephone complaint line and speaking with an operator, who then transcribes the information into the database. See James II Decl. ¶¶ 2-4. The remaining 40% of complaints submitted directly to the FTC were entered by consumers through a link on the agency's website. See id. [**5]  ¶ 3

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70 F. Supp. 3d 247 *; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138061 **; 2014-2 Trade Cas. (CCH) P78,930

AYUDA, INC., et al., Plaintiffs, v. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION, Defendant.

CORE TERMS

fields, Exemption, Consumer, complaints, database, zip code, identify information, disclosure, privacy interest, records, requests, withholding, privacy, estimate, withheld, Counts, summary judgment, declarations, summary judgment motion, manual, redact, processing, free-form, segregate, telephone, contractor, entities, website, public interest, cost estimate

Administrative Law, Freedom of Information, Enforcement, Judicial Review, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Burdens of Proof, General Overview, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Supporting Materials, Affidavits, Reviewability, Exhaustion of Remedies, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Judgments, Jurisdiction & Venue, Methods of Disclosure, Record Requests, Defenses & Exemptions From Public Disclosure, Medical & Personnel Files, Burdens of Proof, Movant Persuasion & Proof, Law Enforcement Records, Personal Information, Compliance With Disclosure Requests, Deletion of Material, Statutory Exemptions, Antitrust & Trade Law, Federal Trade Commission Act, US Federal Trade Commission, Evidentiary Considerations, Processing Fees, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof