Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Three scientists who had previously received EPA grants and served on advisory committees, as well as several non-profit organizations, filed suit arguing that the EPA's directive, which now prohibits all grant recipients from serving on any agency advisory committee, was both arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The DC Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the EPA's motion to dismiss, holding that the mandatory language of GSA's regulations provides meaningful standards for defining the limits of the agency's discretion, giving the court law to apply under section 701(a)(2) of the APA. On the merits of the APA claim, the court held that the district court correctly dismissed plaintiffs' claim that the Directive is contrary to law merely because it differs from OGE's uniform standards; the EPA failed to rationally address its previous conclusion that EPA grantees can provide objective and unbiased advice on matters unrelated to their grants; and an agency's failure to comply with OGE's process is subject to judicial review irrespective of a disclaimer contained in the OGE regulations. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Physicians for Social Responsibility v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the Navy Secretary's refusal to grant him a waiver of statutory requirements that govern his eligibility for incentive pay. After determining that plaintiff has abandoned his substantive challenge to the waiver denial, the DC Circuit held that the question of whether the Secretary complied with the process outlined in the applicable regulation is judicially reviewable. On the merits of plaintiff's procedural claim, the court held that nothing in Instruction 7220.87 obligates the Secretary to seek updated endorsements, and plaintiff gave the court no reason to conclude that the Secretary abused his discretion by relying on the old endorsements or by considering plaintiff's performance data. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Secretary. View "Stewart v. McPherson" on Justia Law

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Hall filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking records from the EPA related to the agency's purported adoption of a "nonacquiescence decision." The judgment at issue is that of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, 711 F.3d 844 (8th Cir. 2013). The DC Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to the EPA, holding that the date on which the EPA reached a final decision to not acquiesce remains a genuine issue of disputed material fact. In this case, the issue of whether the EPA settled on its nonacquiescence position at the time of that press statement on November 19, 2013, or in the days leading up to it, determines whether the documents regarding that nonacquiescence decision are predecisional and, as such, may qualify for withholding under the EPA's deliberative process privilege. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hall & Assoc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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After the EPA issued guidelines for two categories of solid waste incinerator over two years ago, the Administrator has not imposed a federal plan on noncompliant States. Sierra Club filed suit under the Clean Air Act's (CAA) citizen-suit provision seeking to compel the Administrator's action. The district court dismissed the claim based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The DC Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the CAA because the duty in question failed to qualify for section 304's conditional waiver of sovereign immunity. In the alternative, the court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), because the APA contains a carve-out that prevents a plaintiff from using its general sovereign immunity waiver to evade limitations contained in other statutes like the CAA. View "Sierra Club v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted UPS's petition for review, challenging the Commission's Order Adopting Final Rules Relating to the Institutional Cost Contribution Requirement for Competitive Products, No. 4963. The order modified Commission regulations that are meant to ensure that all of the Postal Service's competitive products collectively cover what the Commission determines to be an appropriate share of the institutional costs of the Postal Service. The court held that two aspects of the Commission's order require a remand. First, the Commission has not adequately explained how the statutory phrases "direct and indirect postal costs attributable to [a particular competitive] product through reliably identified causal relationships" and "costs . . . uniquely or disproportionately associated with any competitive products" can coincide. Second, in focusing on costs attributed to competitive products under 39 U.S.C. 3633(a)(2), the Commission failed to discharge its responsibility under section 3633(b) to "consider . . . the degree to which any costs are uniquely or disproportionately associated with any competitive products." Therefore, the order is arbitrary and capricious because it is largely incomprehensible with respect to the matters in issue. Accordingly, the court remanded for further consideration. View "United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Postal Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that FERC's rejection of Gulf South's application for incremental-plus rates was arbitrary and capricious. The court held that FERC failed to justify the disparity between how materially identical shippers will pay dramatically different rates for the use of the same facilities. Furthermore, FERC's decision violated fundamental ratemaking principles—namely, that rates should generally reflect the burdens imposed and benefits drawn by a given shipper. Accordingly, the court vacated the order denying incremental-plus rates and remanded for further proceedings. The court denied Gulf South's petition for review in all other respects. View "Gulf South Pipeline Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the Department's determination that Hagerstown Airport was not eligible for federally subsidized air service because it did not meet the statutory "enplanement" requirement. In this case, petitioners argue that it was arbitrary and capricious for the Department to refuse to grant the airport a waiver as it had done four times previously. After determining that the Department's decision was subject to judicial review, the court deferred to the Department's decision not to waive the airport's failure to meet the enplanement requirement. The court was unconvinced by petitioners' contention that the Department acted arbitrarily because it had been so forgiving in the past. The court explained that the Department was entitled to credit Hagerstown's explanations and predictions less after another year of noncompliance. The court also concluded that the Department's view -- that Hagerstown's history of noncompliance and its location are superior predictors of future enplanement numbers -- is reasonable and therefore is entitled to deference. Finally, it was reasonable for the Department to rely on certain factors to distinguish another community from Hagerstown. View "Board of County Commissioners of Washington County v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted the petitions for review of the EPA's 2018 Rule, which suspended the prior listing of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as unsafe substitutes in its entirety. Consequently, even current users of ozone-depleting substances can now shift to HFCs. As a preliminary matter, the court held that it had jurisdiction to consider the petitions for review, because NRDC, like New York, has established its standing to proceed. Furthermore, the 2018 Rule meets both prongs of the Bennett test for finality. On the merits, the court held that the 2018 Rule was a legislative rule and was thus improperly promulgated without the required notice-and-comment procedures. Accordingly, the court vacated the 2018 Rule, remanding to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit dismissed Sierra Club's petition for review of the EPA's "Guidance on Significant Impact Levels for Ozone and Fine Particles in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permitting Program" (SILs Guidance). The court held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act, because the SILs Guidance is not final agency action. The court explained that the SILs Guidance does not determine rights or obligations and does not effectuate direct or appreciable legal consequences as understood by the finality inquiry. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The county sought to revoke two exemptions the Board granted with respect to a freight rail easement over the county's property, alleging that both notices misrepresented the easement's ownership. The Board denied the petitions because only a court competent in property, contract, and bankruptcy law could determine whether the notices' representations were in fact false. The DC Circuit dismissed the county's first petition for review as incurably premature and dismissed the second petition with respect to its material-error challenge to the Board's reconsideration order. The court held that it has jurisdiction to review the Board's initial order pursuant to the county's second petition, and that the Board's denial of the petitions to revoke was arbitrary and capricious for failing to address the claim that the notices, whether or not ultimately false, misleadingly omitted material information. Accordingly, the court granted the second petition for review insofar as it challenges the Board's initial order, vacated that order, and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings. View "Snohomish County v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law