The Administrative Procedure Act and other federal laws governing administrative agencies have shaped their rulemaking, adjudicatory, and investigative processes. However, a student of this topic also must understand how courts have interpreted these laws and addressed the intersections of administrative law with other areas, such as criminal law and constitutional law. Courts also have defined the relationship between agencies and the judicial branch, including judicial review of agency actions. Below is an outline of key cases in administrative law with links to the full text of virtually every case, provided free by Justia.
When an agency provides a formal interpretation of an ambiguous statute, courts will give a certain level of deference to that interpretation. Only the agency that administers the statute receives deference to its interpretation, though, and agencies do not receive deference when interpreting the APA or other statutes that apply across all agencies.
Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC 一 If a statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to a specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute. If Congress has explicitly left a gap for the agency to fill, the regulation is given controlling weight unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute. If the legislative delegation to an agency is implicit, a court may not substitute its own construction of a statutory provision for a reasonable interpretation by the administrator of an agency.
U.S. v. Mead Corp. 一 Administrative implementation of a statutory provision qualifies for Chevron deference when it appears that Congress delegated authority to the agency generally to make rules carrying the force of law, and the agency interpretation claiming deference was promulgated in the exercise of such authority.
FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. 一 In determining whether Congress has specifically addressed the question at issue in a Chevron analysis, a court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation. Instead, it must place the provision in context, interpreting the statute to create a symmetrical and coherent regulatory scheme.
Gonzales v. Oregon 一 Chevron deference is not accorded merely because a statute is ambiguous, and an administrative official is involved. A rule must be promulgated pursuant to authority that Congress has delegated to the official.
Sciabba v. de Osorio 一 When two halves of a statute do not correspond to each other, this gives rise to an ambiguity that calls for Chevron deference.
Skidmore Deference and Informal Statements
Courts may give relatively limited deference to informal agency statements. The agency interpretation must be persuasive, rather than reasonable, and the degree of deference depends on its persuasiveness. However, the line between Chevron and Skidmore deference may be blurry.
Skidmore v. Swift & Co. 一 Rulings, interpretations, and opinions of agency administrators are not controlling on courts but provide a body of experience and informed judgment that courts can use for guidance. The weight of such a judgment depends on the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors that give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control.
Christensen v. Harris County 一 Interpretations in opinion letters, policy statements, agency manuals, and enforcement guidelines are entitled to respect, but only to the extent that they are persuasive.
U.S. v. Mead Corp. 一 Chevron left Skidmore intact and applicable when statutory circumstances indicate no intent to delegate general authority to make rules with force of law, or when such authority was not invoked.
Barnhart v. Walton 一 An agency’s long-standing interpretation is not automatically deprived of the judicial deference that it is otherwise due because it was previously reached through means less formal than notice-and-comment rulemaking.
Seminole Rock Deference and Ambiguous Rules
An agency receives substantial deference when interpreting its regulations to the extent that they are ambiguous. Despite this high level of deference, a court may review the application of an ambiguous regulation to a certain party for due process concerns.
Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. 一 In interpreting an administrative regulation, a court must look to the administrative construction of the regulation if the meaning of the words used is in doubt. The administrative interpretation holds controlling weight unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation. (The Court reaffirmed this rule in Auer v. Robbins.)
Kisor v. Wilkie 一 A court should not afford Auer deference unless the regulation is genuinely ambiguous after exhausting all the traditional tools of construction. If genuine ambiguity remains, the agency’s reading must still fall within the bounds of reasonable interpretation. A court also must make an independent inquiry into whether the character and context of the agency interpretation entitle it to controlling weight.
General Electric Co. v. EPA 一 If, by reviewing the regulations and other public statements issued by the agency, a regulated party acting in good faith would be able to identify with ascertainable certainty the standards with which the agency expects parties to conform, the agency has fairly notified a petitioner of the agency’s interpretation.
Formal rulemaking is similar to a judicial hearing and generally requires a clear and specific mandate (“magic words”) from Congress. By contrast, informal rulemaking involves publishing the proposed rule in the Federal Register, or naming and personally notifying parties subject to the rule. Then, the agency must provide interested parties with an opportunity to comment. Sometimes an interested party may petition for a rulemaking.
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC 一 Section 553 of the APA establishes the maximum procedural requirements that courts can impose on federal agencies in conducting rulemaking proceedings. While agencies are free to grant additional procedural rights at their discretion, reviewing courts are generally not free to impose them.
U.S. v. Allegheny-Ludlum Steel Corp. 一 Sections 556 and 557 need be applied only when the agency statute, in addition to providing a hearing, prescribes explicitly that it be on the record.
U.S. v. Florida East Coast Railway Co. 一 Language in the Interstate Commerce Act providing that an agency may establish reasonable rules “after hearing” did not trigger Sections 556 and 557, requiring a trial-type hearing and the presentation of oral arguments by affected parties.
Sangamon Valley Television Corp. v. U.S. 一 When a proceeding involves resolving conflicting private claims to a valuable privilege, basic fairness requires this proceeding to be conducted in the open. Thus, private approaches to the members of the agency vitiated its action, and the proceeding must be reopened.
Home Box Office, Inc. v. FCC 一 Agency officials involved in the decisional process of a rulemaking should shun ex parte contacts on the subject matter of the rulemaking between the time when a notice of proposed rulemaking is issued and the final decision in the proceeding. If ex parte contacts occur, the substance of the contacts must be reduced to writing and put in a public file.
Arkansas Power & Light Co. v. ICC 一 Reviewing a denial of a rulemaking petition involves ensuring that the agency has adequately explained the facts and policy concerns on which it relied, and that the facts have some basis in the record.
Williams Natural Gas Co. v. FERC 一 When an agency promulgates a new regulation or rescinds an existing regulation, this alters the regulatory status quo and thus requires a more persuasive justification than a decision to retain an existing rule.
Telecommunications Research and Action Center v. FCC 一 In assessing claims of agency delay, a court should note that the time that agencies take to make decisions must be governed by a rule of reason. When Congress has provided a timetable, that statutory scheme may supply content for the rule of reason. Delays that might be reasonable for economic regulation are less tolerable when human health and welfare are at stake. A court should consider the effect of expediting delayed action on agency activities of a higher or competing priority, as well as the nature and extent of the interests prejudiced by the delay. A court does not need to find any impropriety to hold that agency action is unreasonably delayed.
Procedural and Interpretive Rules
Notice and comment requirements do not apply to rules of agency organization, procedure, or practice. An agency thus can act more efficiently when substantive rights are not affected. Interpretive rules and policy statements also do not need to go through notice and comment.
American Hospital Ass’n v. Bowen 一 The exemption for procedural rules covers agency actions that do not alter the rights or interests of parties, although they may alter the manner in which parties present themselves or their viewpoints to the agency. Also, while a substantive rule establishes a standard of conduct that has the force of law in subsequent proceedings, a general policy statement does not establish a binding norm.
Jem Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC 一 The APA’s procedural exception embraces cases in which the interests promoted by public participation in rulemaking are outweighed by the countervailing considerations of effectiveness, efficiency, expedition, and reduction in expense.
Alaska Professional Hunters Ass'n, Inc. v. FAA 一 When an agency has given its regulation a definitive interpretation, and later significantly revises that interpretation, the agency has in effect amended its rule, which it may not accomplish without notice and comment.
Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Ass'n 一 Since an agency is not required to use notice-and-comment procedures to issue an initial interpretive rule, it is also not required to use those procedures to amend or repeal that rule.
American Mining Congress v. Mine Safety & Health Administration 一 A rule is legislative rather than interpretive if any of the following four tests is met: in the absence of the rule, there would not be an adequate legislative basis for enforcement action or other agency action to confer benefits or ensure the performance of duties; the agency has published the rule in the Code of Federal Regulations; the agency has explicitly invoked its general legislative authority; or the rule effectively amends a prior legislative rule.
Some adjudications are formal, which means that they are governed by certain APA provisions, while others are informal but still must comply with due process. Formal adjudication generally applies in every case of adjudication required by statute to be determined on the record after an opportunity for an agency hearing.
Chemical Waste Management, Inc. v. EPA 一 Regulations establishing informal procedures for administrative hearings represented a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statutory provision and were not inconsistent with due process on their face.
Southwest Sunsites, Inc. v. FTC 一 The purpose of the notice requirement in the APA is satisfied, and there is no due process violation, if the party proceeded against understood the issue and was afforded a full opportunity to justify their conduct.
NLRB v. IBEW 一 When an administrative judge considered an issue not raised in the amended complaint, in the briefs, or in oral argument, and no evidence was presented concerning that issue, this did not meet the notice requirement of the APA.
Londoner v. Denver 一 When the legislature commits the determination of the tax to a subordinate body, due process requires that a taxpayer be afforded a hearing, of which they must have notice. When the taxpayer has no right to object to an assessment in court, they must have the opportunity to support their objections by argument and proof at some time and place.
Mathews v. Eldridge 一 Identifying the specific dictates of due process generally requires considering three factors: the private interest that will be affected by the official action; the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and the government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.
Goldberg v. Kelly 一 A pre-termination evidentiary hearing is necessary to provide a recipient of welfare benefits with procedural due process. The interest of an eligible recipient in the uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, coupled with the state’s interest in not erroneously terminating their payments, clearly outweighs the state’s competing concern to prevent any increase in its fiscal and administrative burdens.
Choice of Agency Procedures
An agency can use adjudication, rulemaking, or non-legislative rulemaking. An agency must use rulemaking if the statute requires this process for a certain type of action, while an agency cannot use rulemaking if it did not receive this authority under the applicable statute.
SEC v. Chenery Corp. (Chenery II) 一 The choice between proceeding by general rule or by ad hoc decisions lies primarily in the informed discretion of the administrative agency. The fact that an ad hoc decision might have a retroactive effect does not necessarily render it invalid.
NLRB v. Bell Aerospace Co. 一 There may be situations in which agency reliance on adjudication would amount to an abuse of discretion.
U.S. v. Storer Broadcasting Co. 一 A hearing requirement should not be read as withdrawing from the power of an agency the rulemaking authority necessary for the orderly conduct of its business.
Access to Judicial Review of Agency Action
Section 702 of the APA provides a cause of action for a party that has suffered a legal wrong because of an agency action, or has been adversely affected or aggrieved by an agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute. Doctrines such as finality and ripeness may arise.
Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation 一 A party must direct its attack against a particular agency action that causes it harm, rather than seeking wholesale improvement of an agency program by court decree.
Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner 一 Courts should restrict access to judicial review only upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence of a contrary legislative intent. Also, ripeness requires a court to evaluate both the fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration. When the legal issue presented is fit for judicial resolution, and when a regulation requires an immediate and significant change in the plaintiff’s conduct of their affairs with serious penalties attached to non-compliance, access to the courts generally must be permitted.
Taylor-Callahan-Coleman Counties District Adult Probation Dept. v. Dole 一 As described by Abbott Laboratories, factors significant in determining the finality of agency action include whether the challenged action is a definitive statement of the agency’s position; whether the actions have the status of laws with penalties for non-compliance; whether the impact on the plaintiff is direct and immediate; and whether immediate compliance was expected.
Block v. Community Nutrition Institute 一 The presumption favoring judicial review of administrative action may be overcome by inferences of intent drawn from the statutory scheme as a whole. When a statute provides a detailed mechanism for judicial consideration of particular issues at the behest of particular persons, judicial review of those issues at the behest of other persons may be found to be impliedly precluded.
Heckler v. Chaney 一 An agency’s decision not to take enforcement action is presumed immune from judicial review under Section 701(a)(2).
Air Courier Conference v. American Postal Workers Union 一 Once they have shown that they are adversely affected, a plaintiff must show that they are within the zone of interests sought to be protected by the statutory provision whose violation forms the legal basis of their complaint.
National Credit Union Admin. v. First National Bank & Trust Co. 一 In applying the zone of interests test, a court does not ask whether Congress specifically intended the statute at issue to benefit the plaintiff. Instead, it discerns the interests arguably to be protected by the statutory provision and inquires whether the plaintiff’s interests affected by the agency action in question are among them.
McCarthy v. Madigan 一 In determining whether exhaustion is required, a court must balance the interest of the individual in retaining prompt access to a federal judicial forum against countervailing institutional interests favoring exhaustion. The interests of the individual weigh heavily against requiring administrative exhaustion when requiring resort to the administrative remedy would occasion undue prejudice to the subsequent assertion of a court action, there is doubt as to whether the agency is empowered to grant effective relief, or the administrative body is shown to be biased or has otherwise predetermined the issue.
Darby v. Cisneros 一 Federal courts do not have the authority to require a plaintiff to exhaust available administrative remedies before seeking judicial review under the APA when neither the relevant statute nor agency rules specifically mandate exhaustion as a prerequisite to judicial review.
Stone v. INS 一 The timely filing of a motion to reconsider an administrative order renders the underlying order non-final for the purposes of judicial review.
Ohio Forestry Ass’n, Inc. v. Sierra Club 一 Lack of ripeness forecloses court review when withholding review would not cause significant hardship to the plaintiff, immediate review could hinder agency efforts to refine its policies, and courts would benefit from further factual development of the issues.
American Hospital Ass'n v. Becerra 一 There is a strong presumption in favor of judicial review of final agency action. This is traditionally available unless a statute’s language or structure precludes judicial review.
Standards of Review for Agency Action
A substantial evidence standard applies to judicial review of formal rulemaking and formal adjudication, while an arbitrary and capricious standard applies to informal rulemaking and informal adjudication.
Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB 一 A reviewing court is not barred from setting aside a Board decision when it cannot conscientiously find that the evidence supporting that decision is substantial, when viewed in the light that the record in its entirety furnishes, including the body of evidence opposed to the Board’s view.
NLRB v. Hearst Publications, Inc. 一 When a question involves the specific application of a broad statutory term in a proceeding in which the agency administering the statute must determine it initially, the agency determination must be accepted if it has warrant in the record and a reasonable basis in law.
Butte County, Cal. v. Hogen 一 In their application to the requirement of factual support, the substantial evidence test and the arbitrary or capricious test are one and the same.
Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe 一 Arbitrary and capricious review requires the reviewing court to engage in a substantial inquiry, or a thorough, probing, in-depth review. A court must decide whether the agency acted within the scope of its authority, whether the decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors, whether there has been a clear error of judgment, and whether the action followed the necessary procedural requirements.
SEC v. Chenery Corp. (Chenery I) 一 An administrative order cannot be upheld unless the grounds on which the agency acted in exercising its powers were those on which its action can be sustained.
Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. 一 An agency rule would be arbitrary and capricious if the agency has relied on factors that Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.
FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. 一 An agency need not demonstrate to a court’s satisfaction that the reasons for a new policy are better than the reasons for the old policy. It suffices that the new policy is permissible under the statute, there are good reasons for it, and the agency believes it to be better, which the conscious change adequately indicates.
Separation of Powers and Agency Functions
Constitutional concerns involving the separation of powers may overlap with administrative law because agencies often hold quasi-executive, quasi-legislative, and quasi-judicial functions. Disputes may arise over the delegation of legislative power or the appointment and removal of agency officers.
Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan 一 An attempted delegation is plainly void when the power sought to be delegated is legislative power, yet nowhere in the statute has Congress declared or indicated any policy or standard to guide or limit the President when acting under such delegation.
Buckley v. Valeo 一 Any appointee exercising significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States is an “Officer of the United States” and must be appointed in the manner prescribed by the Appointments Clause.
Humphrey’s Executor v. U.S. 一 The authority of Congress in creating quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial agencies to require their officers to act independently of executive control includes the power to fix the period during which they shall continue in office, and to forbid their removal except for cause in the meantime. (However, purely executive officers are inherently subject to the exclusive and illimitable power of removal by the President.)
Morrison v. Olson 一 Congress may place the power to appoint inferior executive officers outside the executive branch. Also, Congress may impose a good cause-type restriction on the President’s power to remove an official if this does not interfere with the President’s exercise of the executive power and their constitutionally appointed duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
Bowsher v. Synar 一 Under the constitutional principle of separation of powers, Congress cannot reserve for itself the power of removal of an officer charged with the execution of the laws except by impeachment.
Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board 一 The President may not be restricted in their ability to remove a principal officer, who is in turn restricted in their ability to remove an inferior officer, when that inferior officer determines the policy and enforces the laws of the United States. Multilevel protection from removal is contrary to Article II’s vesting of the executive power in the President.
Seila Law, LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 一 The precedents of Humphrey’s Executor and Morrison should not be extended to an independent agency that wields significant executive power and is run by a single individual who cannot be removed by the President unless certain statutory criteria are met. Such an agency lacks a foundation in historical practice and clashes with constitutional structure by concentrating power in a unilateral actor insulated from presidential control.
Agency Investigations and Information Requests
As part of their investigatory powers, agencies may conduct inspections and impose reporting duties. These processes may trigger constitutional concerns, and information requests are subject to certain reasonableness and appropriateness limits.
Camara v. Municipal Court 一 The Fourth Amendment bars prosecution of a person who has refused to permit a warrantless code enforcement inspection of their personal residence.
Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Ass'n 一 Drug and alcohol tests mandated or authorized by Federal Railroad Administration regulations were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, even though there was no requirement of a warrant or a reasonable suspicion that any particular employee may be impaired, since the compelling government interests served by the regulations outweighed employees’ privacy concerns.
Adams v. FTC 一 The investigatory authority of an administrative agency is not without limitations. A subpoena meets the requirements for enforcement if the inquiry is within the authority of the agency, the demand is not too indefinite, and the information sought is reasonably relevant.
Freese v. FDIC 一 A determination of whether the pursuit of a civil suit against certain individuals would be cost-effective is not a proper purpose to issue a subpoena.
Shapiro v. U.S. 一 The privilege that exists as to private papers cannot be maintained in relation to records required by law to be kept in order that there may be suitable information of transactions that are the appropriate subjects of governmental regulation, and the enforcement of restrictions validly established.
Marchetti v. U.S. 一 The required records doctrine does not apply when a party was not obliged to keep and preserve records of the same kind as they have customarily kept, there are no public aspects to the information, and the requirements are directed to a selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities.
The Freedom of Information Act
An agency generally must make records promptly available to any person upon any request for the records that reasonably describes them and is made in accordance with published rules that provide the time, place, fees, and procedures to be followed.
Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. v. Dept. of Justice 一 In determining whether a document is an agency record under the Freedom of Information Act, a court must consider whether the document is in the agency’s control, generated within the agency, placed into the agency’s files, and used by the agency for any purpose.
Critical Mass Energy Project v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 一 Financial or commercial information provided to the government on a voluntary basis is confidential for the purpose of Exemption 4 of FOIA if it is of a kind that would customarily not be released to the public by the person from whom it was obtained.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act provides a process for creating and managing certain entities that are established or utilized by the President or an agency in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or the agency.
Public Citizen v. Dept. of Justice 一 It is unlikely that Congress intended the Federal Advisory Committee Act to cover every formal and informal consultation between the President or an executive agency and a group rendering advice.
In re Cheney 一 A committee in the Executive Office of the President is composed wholly of federal officials if the President has given no one other than a federal official a vote in or, if the committee acts by consensus, a veto over the committee’s decisions.
This outline has been compiled by the Justia team for solely educational purposes and should not be treated as an independent source of legal authority or a summary of the current state of the law. Students should use this outline as a supplement rather than a substitute for course-specific outlines.