United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge
United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”)
is in the midst of an administrative enforcement action
against a family-owned zoo in Iowa for alleged violations of
the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Legal Defense Fund
(“ALDF”), which has long criticized the zoo's
care and handling of its animals, sought to intervene in that
proceeding but was prevented from doing so by the presiding
administrative law judge. After the agency Judicial Officer
upheld the ALJ's decision on the grounds that the
ALDF's stated interests were beyond the scope of the
proceeding, ALDF challenged the Judicial Officer's ruling
in this Court. It principally contends that the Judicial
Officer's decision was contrary to Section 555(b) of the
Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), which
allows “interested persons” to participate in
agency proceedings “so far as the orderly conduct of
public business permits.” Both sides now move for
Court finds that ALDF's demonstrated interest in the
welfare of the zoo's animals falls squarely within the
scope of the USDA enforcement proceeding. The Judicial
Officer's finding to the contrary was therefore arbitrary
and capricious under the APA. Because the Judicial Officer
did not address whether ALDF's participation would
otherwise impede “the orderly conduct of public
business, ” there is no basis in the record to uphold
the denial of its motion to intervene under APA Section
555(b). The Court will, accordingly, grant ALDF's motion,
vacate the Judicial Officer's ruling, and remand the case
to the agency for a more thorough consideration of ALDF's
motion in light of factors relevant to third-party
participation in agency proceedings under Section 555(b).
Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (“AWA”), 7 U.S.C.
§ 2131 et seq., establishes minimum standards
for the humane care and treatment of animals that are
exhibited to the public. The USDA, through the Animal and
Plant Inspection Service (“APHIS”), licenses
animal exhibitors under the AWA and enforces compliance with
the Act's care and treatment standards. A.R. 4.
Cricket Hollow Zoo is a family-owned menagerie in Manchester,
Iowa. The zoo has custody of some 200 animals, including
lions, tigers, and bears. A.R. 74. Since obtaining its
exhibitor license from APHIS in 1994, the zoo has had a
checkered history of compliance with the AWA. In 2004, APHIS
issued an “Official Warning” to the zoo for
failing to maintain adequate shelter and wholesome food
supplies for its animals. Id. at 81. The zoo
subsequently paid two separate monetary penalties to settle
alleged AWA violations stemming from periodic APHIS
inspections. A.R. 5.
2014, ALDF brought separate lawsuits against Cricket Hollow
and USDA. The former alleged that the zoo had violated the
Endangered Species Act's prohibition on the
“taking” of protected animals. See
Compl., Kuehl v. Sellner, 14-cv-2034 (N.D. Iowa June
11, 2014). The suit against USDA challenged AHPIS's
continued renewal of Cricket Hollow's exhibitor license
in light of the zoo's habitual non-compliance with the
AWA. See Compl., ALDF v. Vilsack,
14-cv-1462 (D.D.C. Aug. 25, 2014). A fellow judge of this
Court ultimately resolved that suit in USDA's favor,
holding that the agency lawfully adopted and applied a
license renewal scheme that does not condition renewal on an
exhibitor's compliance with the AWA's animal welfare
standards. See ALDF v. Vilsack, 169 F.Supp.3d 6, 8
ALDF's suit against the Department was pending, APHIS
initiated the present enforcement action against the zoo.
APHIS re-alleged many of the same violations it had
previously cited, and further accused the zoo of willfully
violating AWA provisions and associated regulations
pertaining to veterinary care. A.R. 5. ALDF sought to
participate in the enforcement action by offering to provide
APHIS attorneys with evidence generated from discovery in
ALDF's Endangered Species Act litigation against the zoo.
A.R. 121-22. APHIS declined the offer, contending that it was
inappropriate given ALDF's pending lawsuit against APHIS
over its renewal of Cricket Hollow's license.
rebuffed, ALDF filed a motion to intervene in the enforcement
proceeding. A.R. 50. ALDF based its motion on Section 555(b)
of the APA, which allows “interested persons” to
participate in agency proceedings “so far as the
orderly conduct of public business permits.” 5 U.S.C.
§ 555(b). The presiding administrative law judge denied
the motion. A.R. 126-27. In a brief opinion, the ALJ noted
that the authority to find violations of the AWA and impose
appropriate penalties “rests solely with the Secretary
[of Agriculture].” Id. at 126. Intervention by
ALDF, the ALJ continued, “would interfere with that
appealed the ALJ's ruling to USDA's Judicial Officer.
In addition to arguing that the ALJ erred in denying
intervention under Section 555(b) of the APA, ALDF also
maintained that it was entitled to intervene under APA
Section 554(c)-which permits “interested parties”
to intervene in formal agency adjudications-and under
USDA's Rules of Practice Governing Formal Adjudicative
Proceedings (“Rules of Practice”). A.R. 132.
Judicial Officer denied ALDF's administrative appeal.
With respect to intervention under Section 555(b), he ruled
that, even assuming ALDF was an “interested person,
” its appearance in the proceeding would disrupt
“the orderly conduct of public business.” A.R.
216. Echoing the reasoning of the ALJ, the Judicial Officer
explained that the purpose of the enforcement proceeding was
solely to determine whether the zoo violated the AWA and, if
so, what the proper sanction should be. Id.
ALDF's “stated interests, ” in his view, were
“beyond the scope of this proceeding.”
Id. Moving to intervention under APA § 554(c),
the Judicial Officer found that because ALDF was not
“entitled as a matter of right to be admitted as a
party” to the proceeding, it had not met the APA's
definition of “party, ” see APA §
551(3), and therefore was not an “interested
party” as required for the intervention under Section
554(c). Id. at 215. Finally, the Judicial Officer
concluded that USDA's Rules of Practice “do not
explicitly provide for intervention by third parties, and the
Judicial Officer has long held that [they] do not provide for
intervention by third parties.” Id. at 217.
ALDF then filed suit in this Court challenging the Judicial
Officer's rulings, and both sides now move for summary
judgment may be granted if “the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if it is capable of
affecting the outcome of litigation. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is
genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id.
judgment is the proper stage for determining whether, as a
matter of law, an agency action is supported by the
administrative record and is consistent with the APA.
Richards v. INS, 554 F.2d 1173, 1777 (D.C. Cir.
1977). The APA provides that “[t]he reviewing court
shall . . . hold unlawful and set aside agency action,
findings, and conclusions found to be arbitrary, capricious,
an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with
the law . . . .” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Arbitrary
and capricious review is “narrow.” Citizens
to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402,
416 (1971). The Court is not to “substitute its
judgment for that of the agency.” Motor Vehicle
Mfrs. Ass'n of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins.
Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). Rather, the Court must
determine whether the agency “examine[d] the relevant
data and articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its
action including a rational connection between the facts
found and the choice made.” Id. But even if
the agency did not fully explain its decision, the Court may
uphold it “if the agency's path may reasonably be
discerned.” Bowman Transp., Inc. v. Arkansas-Best
Freight System, Inc., 419 U.S. ...