In contrast to lawsuits brought in federal district courts, an FTC administrative action is an administrative adjudication under administrative rules. Administrative actions are typically sought to obtain, and result in, a cease-and-desist order for allegedly unfair and deceptive acts or violations of other laws (and the parties may settle for restitution). Under Section 5(b) of the FTC Act, the Commission may challenge unfair or deceptive acts or practices, or violations of other consumer protection statutes, through an administrative adjudication. An administrative action begins with the FTC filing a complaint upon an affirmative vote of the Commission to initiate the complaint. The target of the action is called a respondent. If the respondent elects to settle the charges, the respondent may sign a consent agreement without admitting liability, agree to the entry of a final order, and waive all right to appeal. If the Commission accepts such a proposed consent agreement, it places the order on the public record for thirty days of public comment before determining whether to make the order final.
If the respondent does not settle and contests the charges, the matter is adjudicated in front of an administrative law judge. The result of a trial before an administrative law judge is a decision containing findings of fact and conclusions of law, and recommending either entry of an order to cease and desist or dismissal of the complaint. The Commission receives briefs, holds oral argument, and thereafter issues its own final decision and order. If a respondent violates a final order, it is liable for a civil penalty for each violation. Final administrative orders are enforced in federal courts, which can assess civil penalties and issue mandatory injunctions.