The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL
Plaintiff Coordinated Caribbean Transport, Inc. ("CCT") seeks review of an order of the Maritime Subsidy Board rendered in connection with the applications of Delta Steamship Lines, Inc. ("Delta") for amendment of an existing operating-differential subsidy contract. The matter is before the Court on cross-motions and the extensive record of the proceedings before the Board. The Court finds that the Board's action on Delta's applications is not ripe for judicial review and the complaint must therefore be dismissed.
Delta recently acquired rights under an existing operating-differential subsidy contract for service between designated ports in the United States and the Caribbean. Delta filed two applications with the Board to amend the contract so that Delta could provide subsidized service on a "privileged call basis" to certain ports in the Caribbean and to obtain "interchange and transfer rights" between the services acquired under the contract.
Before Delta's application can actually be granted, however, Delta must also demonstrate that it meets certain additional requirements, particularly those listed in section 601 of the Act, 46 U.S.C. § 1171 (1976).
No decision has yet been reached as to whether Delta meets these additional requirements. CCT has no right to participate in these further agency actions with the exception of a limited right to request the Secretary in his discretion to review the matter. See 46 CFR § 202 (1980).
The Secretary asks for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that CCT has not exhausted its administrative remedies and that the decision of the Board is not ripe for judicial review. CCT argues that this controversy is in a proper posture for judicial review and that the action of the Board should be reversed because it is unsupported by substantial evidence, arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not supported by law.
The issue of whether this case is ripe for judicial review is at least in part semantic. CCT, focusing on the Board proceedings with respect to the section 605(c) issues, points out that the Board's order as affirmed by the Secretary is final and that it has no further right to intervene in opposition to Delta's applications. On the other hand, the Secretary regards the Board's order as merely one step in a larger administrative proceeding. He argues that no final action appropriate for judicial review has occurred since the Board's determination will only have a concrete impact on CCT when and if Delta's application is approved. The Court finds that the Secretary's characterization of the administrative proceedings is more consistent with established ripeness doctrine.
In determining whether a case is ripe for judicial review the Court must consider "both the fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration." Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149, 87 S. Ct. 1507, 1515, 18 L. Ed. 2d 681 (1967). For a case to be ripe for review "(w)hat is required is that the interests of the court and agency in postponing review until the question arises in some more concrete and final form, be outweighed by the interest of those who seek relief from the challenged action's "immediate and practical' impact upon them." Continental Air Lines, Inc. v. Civil Aeronautics Board, 173 U.S. App. D.C. 1, 522 F.2d 107, 124-25 (D.C.Cir.1975) (en banc ).
It is against this lack of showing of any hardship that the Court must assess the interests of the Secretary and the Court in postponing review of the Board's decision. In attempting to strike the proper balance the Court notes that "in the absence of hardship only a minimum showing of countervailing judicial or administrative interest is needed, if any, to tip the balance against review." Diamond Shamrock Corp. v. Costle, 188 U.S. App. D.C. 407, 580 F.2d 670, 674 (D.C.Cir.1978).
Judicial review at this point in the administrative proceedings would be contrary to the mandate of Abbott "to protect the agencies from judicial interference until an administrative action has been formalized and its effect felt in a concrete way...." 387 U.S. at 148, 87 S. Ct. at 1515. If Delta's applications are ultimately rejected by the agency judicial oversight of the Board's resolution of the 605(c) issues will become unnecessary. In addition, a limited grant of Delta's application by the Secretary might narrow the issues for judicial determination should that become necessary.
The interest in preserving judicial resources would also be served if the Court now refrains from engaging in a potentially unnecessary review of the Board's order. Further agency action on Delta's application may obviate the need for judicial review entirely. Clearly, the Board's determination on the section 605(c) issues will not "inexorably" lead to the granting of Delta's application. Cf. Regional Rail Cases, 419 U.S. 102, 140, 95 S. Ct. 335, 356-357, 42 L. Ed. 2d 320 (1974). Nor has the Board taken some type of action which will inevitably affect CCT adversely once its implications are worked out through specific administrative determinations. Cf. Diamond Shamrock Corp. v. Costle, 188 U.S. App. D.C. 407, 580 F.2d 670, 674 (D.C.Cir.1978). The Court's interest in avoiding premature and possibly unnecessary adjudication is of course strongest when it faces constitutional issues. See Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Comm. v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 150, 71 S. Ct. 624, 637, 95 L. Ed. 817 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring). However, this interest is also entitled to weight when purely statutory issues are presented.
Since the plaintiff is presently suffering no cognizable hardship as a result of the Board's order and since the interests of the Secretary and of this Court in postponing judicial review pending further agency action are significant, this action is not ripe for judicial review. In view of this ruling it is unnecessary to consider ...