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GUY v. GLICKMAN

November 15, 1996

LYNWOOD M. GUY d/b/a LYNWOOD M. GUY FARMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DAN GLICKMAN, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 Presently pending are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff, Lynwood M. Guy ("Guy"), has filed suit against the Secretary of Agriculture ("Secretary") contending that defendant's final administrative decisions on April 10, 1994, (for crop year 1993) and June 1, 1995, (for crop year 1994) were arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with law. For the reasons expressed below, plaintiff's motion will be denied, defendant's motion will also be denied, and this matter will be remanded to the Secretary for further action consistent with this Opinion. *fn1"

 This case involves a dispute between a plaintiff farmer and the Department of Agriculture ("Department") over the amount owed to plaintiff under the Department's Disaster Payment Program. The material facts in this case are not disputed. *fn2" As a farm operator in Northampton County, Virginia, Lynwood M. Guy grows a variety of crops. In 1993, Virginia suffered from drought and excessive heat, which qualified as eligible disaster conditions under applicable Department of Agriculture regulations. These conditions resulted in a low basil yield for Guy and he therefore applied to his county committee for disaster program benefits. *fn3"

 To calculate Guy's disaster payment, the county committee applied the 1993 Disaster Rates and Yields for Non-Program Crops listed in Virginia notice PAD-166. Using the established yield of 49,719 bunches with a loss of 60% (or 29,831 bunches) multiplied by a payment rate of $ 5.85 *fn4" per bunch, the county committee determined that Guy was due $ 174,511 for his basil disaster losses. Approximately two weeks later, the state committee approved a revised yield and payment rate for basil. Using the revised yield of 15,000 bunches with a loss of 60% (or 9,000 bunches) multiplied by a payment rate of $ 0.43 per bunch, the county committee calculated that Guy was actually due a disaster payment of only $ 3,861 for his basil losses. Guy received a check for $ 3,861. *fn5"

 Virginia also suffered from eligible disaster conditions (again, drought and excessive heat) in 1994. Among other crops, *fn6" Guy applied for disaster payments due to low arugula yields. Using the applicable state yield and payment rate for arugula, the county committee calculated Guy's disaster payment as 96,000 bunches per acre multiplied by Guy's 1.5 acres multiplied by $ 0.54 per bunch, or $ 77,760.

 One month later, the state committee revised the rate and yield for arugula. Applying the revised figures to Guy's crop, the county committee determined that he was in fact due only $ 2,842. *fn7" Guy was paid $ 2,842.

 Guy attempted to appeal the revision of the arugula numbers. The state committee denied his appeal on the grounds that he had no right to reconsideration or review of general program requirements that were applicable to all program participants. Guy then filed the instant action.

 In this action, Guy contends that Secretary's reduction of his Disaster Payment Program benefits was not authorized by statute or regulation and was therefore arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful. See Complaint P 16 (Count II). He seeks a declaratory judgment that he should receive disaster benefits as originally calculated. Id. at P 14 (Count I). Count III, which Guy voluntarily dismissed, alleged breach of contract. Id. at P 19. Finally, Guy claims that his due process rights were violated when he was refused a hearing to discuss the changed rates and yields. Id. at P 22 (Count IV).

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. The Standards of Review

 Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial--whether, in other words, there are any genuine issues that can properly be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his [or her] favor." Id. at 255. At the same time, however, Rule 56(c) places a burden on the non-moving party to "go beyond the pleadings and by [his or] her own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548(1986).

 The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) empowers a reviewing court to overturn agency action that is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. ยง 706(2)(A). When a court is called upon to review an agency's construction of a statute that it administers, the court is confronted with two questions. The first inquiry is "whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue." Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837, 842, 81 L. Ed. 2d 694, 104 S. Ct. 2778, reh'g denied 468 U.S. 1227, 82 L. Ed. 2d 921, 105 S. Ct. 28, 105 S. Ct. 29 (1984); Chemical Mfrs. Ass'n v. U.S. E.P.A., 287 U.S. App. D.C. 49, 919 F.2d 158, 162 (D.C. Cir. 1990);. This determination involves examination of "the particular statutory language at issue, as well as the language and design of the statute as a whole." K Mart Corp. v. Cartier, Inc., 486 U.S. 281, 291, 100 L. Ed. 2d 313, 108 S. Ct. 1811 (1988); Chemical Mfrs. Ass'n, 919 F.2d at 162. If congressional intent is clear, it must be given effect. Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842-43; Chemical Mfrs. Ass'n, 919 F.2d at 162. However, if the statute is silent or ambiguous on a particular issue, the court "must defer to the agency's interpretation of the statute if it is reasonable and consistent with the statute's purpose." Chemical Mfrs. Ass'n, 919 F.2d at 162-63; see Chevron, 467 U.S. at 844-45.

 The arbitrary and capricious standard of review is a highly deferential one, Ethyl Corp. v. EPA, 176 U.S. App. D.C. 373, 541 F.2d 1, 34 (D.C. Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 941, 49 L. Ed. 2d 394, 96 S. Ct. 2662, 96 S. Ct. 2663 (1976), which presumes the agency's action to be valid. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 419, 28 L. Ed. 2d 136, 91 S. Ct. 814 (1971); Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Costle, 211 U.S. App. D.C. 313, 657 F.2d 275, 283 (D.C. Cir. 1981). The burden of overcoming this presumption rests on the party challenging the agency action. Mt. Airy Refining Co. v. Schlesinger, 481 F. Supp. 257, 264 (D.D.C. 1979), citing Udall v. Washington, VA & MD Coach Co., 130 U.S. App. D.C. 171, 398 F.2d 765 (D.C. Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1017, 21 L. Ed. 2d 561, 89 S. Ct. 622 (1969). The Supreme Court has stressed that the scope of review "is narrow and a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency." Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43, 77 L. Ed. 2d 443, 103 S. Ct. 2856 (1987); Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, 401 U.S. at 416. So long as the agency's decision "was based on a consideration of the relevant factors," Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, 401 U.S. at 416, the reviewing court should "uphold a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency's path may reasonably ...


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