JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Government in the Sunshine Act, 5 U. S. C. § 552b, mandates that federal agencies hold their meetings in public.
Members of petitioner Federal Communications Commission (FCC) participate with their European and Canadian counterparts in what is referred to as the Consultative Process. This is a series of conferences intended to facilitate joint planning of telecommunications facilities through an exchange of information on regulatory policies. At the time of the conferences at issue in the present case, only three American corporations — respondents ITT World Communications, Inc. (ITT), and RCA Global Communications, Inc., and Western Union International — provided overseas record telecommunications services. Although the FCC had approved entry into the market by other competitors, European regulators had been reluctant to do so. The FCC therefore added the topic of new carriers and services to the agenda of the Consultative Process, in the hope that exchange of information might persuade the European nations to cooperate with the FCC's policy of encouraging competition in the provision of telecommunications services.
Respondents, opposing the entry of new competitors, initiated this litigation. First, respondents filed a rulemaking petition with the FCC concerning the Consultative Process meetings. The petition requested that the FCC disclaim any intent to negotiate with foreign governments or to bind it to agreements at the meetings, arguing that such negotiations were ultra vires the agency's authority. Further, the petition contended that the Sunshine Act required the Consultative Process sessions, as "meetings" of the FCC, to be
Respondent ITT then filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint, like respondents' rulemaking petition, contended (i) that the agency's negotiations with foreign officials at the Consultative Process were ultra vires the agency's authority and (ii) that future meetings of the Consultative Process must conform to the requirements of the Sunshine Act. The District Court dismissed the ultra vires count on jurisdictional grounds, but ordered the FCC to comply with the Sunshine Act.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit considered on consolidated appeal the District Court's judgment and the FCC's denial of the rulemaking petition. The District Court judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part. 226 U. S. App. D. C. 67, 699 F.2d 1219 (1983). The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling that the Sunshine Act applied to meetings of the Consultative Process. It reversed the District Court's dismissal of the ultra
The Court of Appeals also concluded that the FCC erroneously had denied respondents' rulemaking petition. Consistent with its affirmance of the District Court, the Court of Appeals held that the FCC had erred in concluding that the Sunshine Act did not apply to the Consultative Process sessions. Further, the court found the record "patently inadequate" to support the FCC's conclusion that attendance at sessions of the Consultative Process was within the scope of its authority. 226 U. S. App. D. C., at 95, 699 F. 2d, at 1247. Although remanding to the FCC, the court suggested that the agency stay consideration of the rulemaking petition, as the District Court's action upon respondents' complaint might moot the question of rulemaking.
We granted certiorari, to decide whether the District Court could exercise jurisdiction over the ultra vires claim and whether the Sunshine Act applies to sessions of the Consultative Process.
We consider initially the jurisdiction of the District Court to enjoin FCC action as ultra vires. Exclusive jurisdiction for review of final FCC orders, such as the FCC's denial of respondents' rulemaking petition, lies in the Court of Appeals. 28 U. S. C. § 2342(1); 47 U. S. C. § 402(a). Litigants may not evade these provisions by requesting the District Court to enjoin action that is the outcome of the agency's order. See Port of Boston Marine Terminal Assn. v. Rederiaktiebolaget Transatlantic, 400 U.S. 62, 69 (1970); Whitney National Bank v. Bank of New Orleans, 379 U.S. 411, 419-422 (1965). Yet that is what respondents have sought to do in this case. In substance, the complaint filed in the District Court raised the same issues and sought to enforce the same restrictions upon agency conduct as did the petition for rulemaking that was denied by the FCC. See supra, at 465-466.
The Sunshine Act, 5 U. S. C. § 552b(b), requires that "meetings of an agency" be open to the public. Section 552b(a)(2) defines "meetings" as "the deliberations of at least the number of individual agency members required to take action on behalf of the agency where such deliberations determine or result in the joint conduct or disposition of official agency business." Under these provisions, the Sunshine Act does not require that Consultative Process sessions be held in public, as the participation by FCC members in these sessions constitutes neither a "meeting" as defined by § 552b(a)(2) nor a meeting "of the agency" as provided by § 552b(b).
Congress in drafting the Act's definition of "meeting" recognized that the administrative process cannot be conducted entirely in the public eye. "[I]nformal background discussions [that] clarify issues and expose varying views" are a necessary part of an agency's work. See S. Rep. No. 94-354,
Three Commissioners, the number who attended the Consultative Process sessions, did not constitute a quorum of the seven-member Commission.
It does not appear, however, that the Telecommunications Committee engaged at these sessions in "deliberations [that] determine or result in the joint conduct or disposition of official agency business." This statutory language contemplates discussions that "effectively predetermine official actions." See S. Rep. No. 94-354, at 19; accord, id., at 18. Such discussions must be "sufficiently focused on discrete proposals or issues as to cause or be likely to cause the individual participating members to form reasonably firm positions regarding matters pending or likely to arise before the agency." R. Berg & S. Klitzman, An Interpretive Guide to the Government in the Sunshine Act 9 (1978) (hereinafter Interpretive Guide).
The Court of Appeals did not reach a contrary result by finding that the Commissioners were deliberating upon matters within their formally delegated authority. Rather, that court inferred from the members' attendance at the sessions an undisclosed authority, not formally delegated, to engage in discussions on behalf of the Commission. The court then concluded that these discussions were deliberations that resulted in the conduct of official agency business, as the discussions "play[ed] an integral role in the Commission's policymaking processes." 226 U. S. App. D. C., at 89, 699 F. 2d, at 1241.
We view the Act differently. It applies only where a subdivision of the agency deliberates upon matters that are within that subdivision's formally delegated authority to take official action for the agency. Under the reasoning of the Court of Appeals, any group of members who exchange views or gathered information on agency business apparently could be viewed as a "subdivision . . . authorized to act on behalf of the agency." The term "subdivision" itself indicates agency members who have been authorized to exercise formally delegated authority. See Interpretive Guide, at 2-3. Moreover, the more expansive view of the term "subdivision" adopted by the Court of Appeals would require public attendance at a host of informal conversations of the type Congress understood to be necessary for the effective conduct of
The Consultative Process was not convened by the FCC, and its procedures were not subject to the FCC's unilateral control. The sessions of the Consultative Process therefore are not meetings "of an agency" within the meaning of § 552b(b). The Act prescribes procedures for the agency to follow when it holds meetings and particularly when it chooses to close a meeting. See n. 6, supra. These provisions presuppose that the Act applies only to meetings that the agency has the power to conduct according to these procedures. And application of the Act to meetings not under agency control would restrict the types of meetings that agency members could attend. It is apparent that Congress, in enacting requirements for the agency's conduct of its own meetings, did not contemplate as well such a broad substantive
For these reasons, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
"Members [of a federal agency] shall not jointly conduct or dispose of agency business other than in accordance with this section. Except as provided in subsection (c), every portion of every meeting of an agency shall be open to public observation."
Subsection (c) contains exceptions, that are not relevant to the present case. Section 552b(a)(2) defines "meeting" as
"the deliberations of at least the number of individual agency members required to take action on behalf of the agency where such deliberations determine or result in the joint conduct or disposition of official agency business."
Section 552b(a)(1) defines the term "agency" to include "any agency . . . headed by a collegial body composed of two or more individual members. . . and any subdivision thereof authorized to act on behalf of the agency."
"The form of proceeding for judicial review is the special statutory review proceeding relevant to the subject matter in a court specified by statute or, in the absence or inadequacy thereof, any applicable form of legal action . . . in a court of competent jurisdiction."
The Court of Appeals accepted respondents' contention that review in the Court of Appeals was inadequate to vindicate respondents' claims. See infra, at 469.