Supreme Court curbs FTC's ability to get money back for consumers deceived by companies

The decision could impact a current antitrust case with Facebook.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court on April 19, 2021.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The US Supreme Court has held that the Federal Trade Commission cannot seek equitable monetary relief for consumers. Congress had previously granted the FTC authority to enforce breaches of prohibitions on "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," but the high court's unanimous decision, handed down Thursday, says that section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act doesn't allow that.

The FTC had leaned on this section in cases where a business or person used unfair or deceptive conduct and been given a final cease and desist order by the agency. According to the Supreme Court, section 13(b) does not authorize court-ordered monetary relief, but instead simply a permanent injunction.

The decision could impact a current antitrust case between the FTC and Facebook. In March, Facebook argued that the FTC lacked the statutory authority under section 13(b) to bring the federal antitrust case.

FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra tweeted Thursday that the Supreme Court ruling "forbids the FTC from getting money from bad actors."

"Even if Congress takes action to address this, commissioners should act now to deploy the FTC's dormant Penalty Offense Authority through Section 5(m)(1)(B), trigger broader sanctions for bad actors through Section 18, and undertake other agency reforms," Chopra said.