WASHINGTON—The Rubber Manufacturers Association is considering an appeal of a federal judge´s decision rejecting the RMA´s petition in a court case involving "early warning" data submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to the RMA, Exemption 3 of the Freedom of Information Act-which allows Congress to forbid information disclosure under a statute-mandates that all data submitted to NHTSA under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act is confidential. However, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed in his July 31 ruling on the association´s motion.
The section of the TREAD Act covering early warning data contains nothing about preventing their disclosure and therefore isn´t covered under Exemption 3, Leon said in his decision. Instead, it gives NHTSA wide latitude in determining whether the release of any of that information will, or will not, be helpful in carrying out the safety goals of the statute.
Consumer group Public Citizen, which long has advocated the public availability of all TREAD Act information, applauded Leon´s decision. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said the point of the law was to ensure that the government and public receive the information they need to respond to serious safety problems involving vehicles and tires, and all that information needs to be made available.
Both the RMA and Public Citizen asked the court to rule on Exemption 3 after its March 31 decision that skirted the issue.
In July 2003, NHTSA issued a final early warning rule granting confidentiality to production, warranty and consumer complaint data submitted under the TREAD Act. The rule was amended in April 2004 to add common green tire lists, which cover basic tire constructions for various models and brands, to the confidential group.
However, the agency refused to allow confidential treatment of fatality, injury and property damage data, which the RMA wanted. Public Citizen, meanwhile, argued that all this information should be publicly accessible. Both organizations sued NHTSA, causing the agency to delay the release of early warning data indefinitely.
In the March 31 ruling, the court remanded the early warning rule to NHTSA, on the grounds the agency did not allow adequate notice and comment periods. This prompted both the RMA and Public Citizen to request a ruling on the Exemption 3 issue.
An RMA spokesman said the association has 60 days from the date of the most recent ruling-that is, until the end of September-to decide its route of appeal. In cases like this, parties usually have the option of appealing to the full panel of district court judges or going directly to a federal appeals court.