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National Federation of the Blind v. Margaret Spellings

June 24, 2008

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARGARET SPELLINGS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs National Federation of the Blind, National Association of Blind Merchants, Billie Ruth Schlank, Donald J. Morris, and Kevan Worley (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this action against Margaret Spellings, Secretary of the United States Department of Education, and Edward Anthony, Acting Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, in their official capacities (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiffs are seeking a writ of mandamus requiring Defendants to comply with a 1974 amendment to the Randolph-Sheppard Act that directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to assign an additional ten full-time employees to Randolph-Sheppard Act-related activities. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint, primarily arguing that Plaintiffs lack constitutional standing to advance their claims. The Court believes that Plaintiffs' intentions in pursuing this litigation are laudable and that the continued vitality of the Randolph-Sheppard Act serves important goals for Plaintiffs and other persons and entities. Nevertheless, after a thorough review of the Parties' submissions, applicable case law and statutory authority, the Court finds that Plaintiffs lack constitutional standing to pursue their claims. Accordingly, the Court shall grant Defendants' [5] Motion to Dismiss, and shall deny Plaintiffs' [12] Request for a Hearing on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, for the reasons explained in greater detail below.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Statutory Background

The Randolph-Sheppard Vending Stand Act (the "Act" or the "Randolph-Sheppard Act") was enacted in 1936 to provide the blind with self-sustaining employment and to increase their economic opportunities. 20 U.S.C. § 107(a). The Act implements these objectives by authorizing blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property and requiring that blind vendors licensed under the Act be given priority to operate such facilities. Id. § 107(b).

Congress amended the Randolph-Sheppard Act in 1974. See Pub. L. No. 93-516, 88 Stat. 1623 (1974). The Act, as amended, identifies the Rehabilitation Services Administration ("RSA") as the agency principally responsible for carrying out the provisions of the Act, and describes the various responsibilities of the Secretary of the United States Department of Education*fn1 to enforce or interpret the same. 20 U.S.C. § 107a. For example, the Secretary is responsible for designating State Licensing Agencies ("SLA's") to administer the Randolph-Sheppard Act within each state. Id. § 107a(5). A blind vendor who is interested in operating a vending facility on federal property must apply to his or her SLA for a license, id. § 107a(b), and the SLA, in turn, applies to the federal government seeking to place the licensee on federal property. Id. § 107a(c). Of particular relevance to the present lawsuit, Congress's 1974 amendments also "directed" the Secretary "to assign to the Office of the Blind and Visually Handicapped [of the RSA] ten additional full-time personnel (or their equivalent), five of whom shall be supportive personnel, to carry out duties related to the administration of the Randolph-Sheppard Act.'" 29 U.S.C. § 702 Note, Pub. L. No. 93-516, § 208(a).

Any vendor or SLA who is dissatisfied with the operation or administration of the Act may initiate the Act's administrative review procedures. For example, a blind licensee may submit to a[n] [SLA] a request for a full evidentiary hearing . . . If such blind licensee is dissatisfied with any action taken or decision rendered as a result of such hearing, he may file a complaint with the Secretary [of Education] who shall convene a panel to arbitrate the dispute . . ., and the decision of such panel shall be final and binding on the parties except as otherwise provided in [the Act]. 20 U.S.C. § 107d-1(a). SLA's may initiate a similar review process:

[w]henever any [SLA] determines that any department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States that has control of the maintenance, operation, and protection of Federal property is failing to comply with [the Act] . . . such [SLA] may file a complaint with the Secretary who shall convene a panel to arbitrate the dispute . . . and the decision of such panel shall be final and binding on the parties except as otherwise provided in [the Act].

Id. § 107d-1(b). The D.C. Circuit has held that these review procedures are mandatory prior to the initiation of a lawsuit because "the text of the Act manifests Congress's intent that aggrieved vendors pursue their administrative remedies before resorting to Article III adjudication." Comm. of Blind Vendors of the District of Columbia v. District of Columbia, 28 F.3d 130, 135 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citing Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America v. Weinberger, 795 F.2d 90, 101-04 (D.C. Cir. 1986)). The Court has further held that "'it seems unlikely, after establishing a specific dispute resolution system and conditioning judicial review on a final agency action, that Congress contemplated that an aggrieved party could . . . circumvent the system and seek de novo determination in federal court.'" Id. (quoting Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, 795 F.2d at 103).

B. Factual Background

The five Plaintiffs in this action consist of two membership organizations and three blind persons who claim to have suffered particular injuries (and that they will continue to suffer injuries) because Defendants have "slashed the manpower Congress directed [to] be assigned to [the] Randolph-Sheppard program." Pls.' Opp'n at 7; Compl. ¶¶ 4-8. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that three employees were already assigned to functions related to the Randolph-Sheppard Act prior to the 1974 amendments. Compl. ¶ 17. Because the 1974 amendments directed the Secretary to assign an additional ten employees to functions related to the Act, Plaintiffs surmise that the RSA must assign a minimum of thirteen employees to implement the Act. Id. Effective October 1, 2005, the functions associated with the Act were allegedly reassigned to the newly created Training and Service Programs Division, which oversees other programs unrelated to blindness. Id. ¶ 20. As a result, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants "intend to staff the Randolph-Sheppard program with fewer than half the 13 full-time employees required by statute." Id. ¶ 20.

Although Plaintiffs do not identify their injuries in their Complaint, Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion describes several. The first is based on the failure of certain federal agencies to comply with 34 C.F.R. § 395.33(b), a regulation requiring federal agencies to invite SLA's to respond to any of their solicitations for cafeteria contracts. Plaintiffs identify seven instances since October 1, 2005, where this process was allegedly not followed:

! The Department of Defense solicited three military dining contracts but set them aside for small businesses or HUB-zone contractors and not blind vendors.

! The General Services Administration solicited three cafeteria contracts but failed to explain that blind ...


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