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NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLES. UNION v. CORNELIUS

July 15, 1985

NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION, Plaintiff,
v.
LORETTA CORNELIUS, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE

 On January 4, 1985, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a final rule, without prior notice or comment and effective immediately. The rule deleted certain provisions in the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically the final sentences of 5 C.F.R. § 531.410(d) and 5 C.F.R. § 536.302(e). These provisions relate to the appeals process applicable to a denial of within-grade increases and to the termination of grade or pay retention rights. The rationale for the change in the rules was an OPM determination that "the alternative appeals procedures provided for in [these regulations] is beyond OPM's regulatory authority, since the law does not authorize OPM to create additional appeals mechanisms. These provisions were promulgated in error and must be deleted." 50 Fed. Reg. 427 (January 4, 1985). Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in support of its claim that this rulemaking was substantively and procedurally flawed.

 I

 Defendant moved to dismiss this case on the grounds that there was no case or controversy, that plaintiff did not have standing to maintain this action and that this Court is not the proper forum to decide this case. The Court finds these contentions are without merit.

 Plaintiff challenges this rulemaking under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq. Preenforcement judicial review of final agency rules is appropriate under the APA, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706. Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 18 L. Ed. 2d 681, 87 S. Ct. 1507 (1967); Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Work v. Connally, 337 F. Supp. 737 (D.D.C. 1971). Plaintiff, a union representing federal employees, claims that this regulation violates the Civil Service Reform Act, will result in agencies providing false information to federal employees on the subject of their appeal rights and ultimately result in the loss of those rights through procedural default. In response to this regulation, plaintiff has warned its membership that employees can only preserve their appeal rights by filing both an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and a grievance pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. The impact of this regulation on plaintiff is "sufficiently direct and immediate as to render the issue appropriate for judicial review at this stage." Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, supra, 387 U.S. at 152. There is no reason why the Court must wait until a union member loses his right to appeal before considering the validity of these regulations. Furthermore, plaintiff's most complete and effective remedy is a challenge to OPM's rulemaking rather than having to litigate the issue on a case-by-case basis with each federal agency.

 OPM also argues that judicial review is inappropriate because the change in the regulation is "non-binding guidance OPM offered to federal agencies." Defendant's Motion to Dismiss at 8. There is absolutely nothing in the Federal Register notice which suggests that this change is non-binding or that this is merely OPM's interpretation of the statute and that other agencies are free to adopt their own statutory interpretation. *fn1" This situation is quite different from that described by the Court of Appeals in Federal/Postal/Retiree Coalition v. Devine, 243 U.S. App. D.C. 205, 751 F.2d 1424 (D.C. Cir. 1985). In that case, the Court of Appeals upheld OPM's authority to publish a Federal Personnel Manual which, according to OPM affidavits was "precatory and will not bind Federal agencies in the manner of a regulation." Id. at n.14. OPM is now attempting to use that case as precedent to argue that its regulations are non-binding and not subject to review under the APA. This attempt must be rejected.

 Defendant's final jurisdictional defense is that the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) vests exclusive jurisdiction in the MSPB or the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) with direct appeal to the Court of Appeals. The exclusivity of the CSRA's procedures has been well-recognized in cases involving individual employee's rights. Thus, courts have recognized that aggrieved federal employees must pursue civil service remedies and cannot denominate their claim as an APA claim in order to seek relief in district court. See, e.g., Pinar v. Dole, 747 F.2d 899 (4th Cir. 1984); Veit v. Heckler, 746 F.2d 508 (9th Cir. 1984); Carducci v. Regan, 230 U.S. App. D.C. 80, 714 F.2d 171 (D.C. Cir. 1983). This does not, however, insulate OPM from direct judicial review of challenges to rulemaking under the APA. The Court of Appeals made this clear in National Treasury Employees Union v. Devine, 236 U.S. App. D.C. 22, 733 F.2d 114, 117 n.8 (D.C. Cir. 1984), when it stated:

 
The appellant has also argued that this case cannot be brought under the Administrative Procedure Act, . . . because provisions in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 ("CSRA") . . . established the exclusive means to review the decisions at issue here . . . This claim is meritless. It is one thing to say that when a statute provides a detailed scheme of administrative protection for defined employment rights, less significant employment rights of the same sort are implicitly excluded and cannot form the basis for relief directly through the courts . . . It is quite different to suggest, as appellant does, that a detailed scheme of administrative adjudication impliedly precludes preenforcement judicial review of rules. Cf. International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union v. Donovan, 232 U.S. App. D.C. 309, 722 F.2d 795, 807 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (rejecting similar implications based on enforcement scheme of Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938) [citations omitted].

 The analysis used by the Court of Appeals is equally persuasive here and this Court concludes that it has jurisdiction to hear this challenge to OPM rulemaking.

 II

 The substantive question in this lawsuit *fn2" is whether the provision in 5 U.S.C. § 5335(c) permitting employees to appeal denials of within-grade increases to the MSPB makes such appeals a matter "specifically provided for by federal statute." The Federal Register notice states that any matters specifically provided for by federal statute are not subject to a grievance procedure and therefore where the statute states that appeal to the MSPB would be appropriate, the regulation cannot permit utilization of a negotiated grievance procedure. Plaintiff argues that this position is contrary to law because it ignores other applicable provisions of law which indicate that denials of within-grade increases must be processed through the collective bargaining grievance procedure when the individual is covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In order to clarify this dispute the Court must consider the history of several statutes.

 Federal employees who have been in grade for a certain period of time are eligible to receive salary increases if their work is "of an acceptable level of competence as determined by the head of the agency." 5 U.S.C. § 5335(a). If the determination is made that the employee's work is not at an acceptable level, "the employee is entitled to prompt written notice of that determination and an opportunity for reconsideration of the determination within his agency under uniform procedures prescribed by the Office of Personnel Management. If the determination is affirmed on reconsideration, the employee is entitled to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board." 5 U.S.C. § 5335(c). *fn3" Uniform procedures were promulgated which provided that employees were to receive written notice of their rights to receive reconsideration within the agency and to appeal to the MSPB. 33 Fed. Reg. 12448 (September 4, 1968). The new final rule which is being challenged essentially returns to the procedures in the original regulation.

 New regulations were promulgated after notice and comment, establishing a procedure for reconsideration of a negative determination which took into account ...


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