United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. McFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
resolution of this case depends on the meaning of the word
“is.” The Plaintiff, Security University (the
“University”), which trains information
technology and cybersecurity professionals, obtained a grant
from the Department of Labor. The Defendants, officials for
the Department of Labor and the Department itself
(collectively, “DOL”), terminated the grant after
the University lost its accreditation. The DOL asserted that
to be eligible for the grant, the University must be an
institution of higher education that “is
accredited” throughout the term of the grant. Because
the University lost its accreditation halfway through the
grant period, the DOL concluded that the University was no
longer eligible and that the grant should be terminated. The
University challenges the DOL's position as arbitrary and
capricious, arguing that the University only needed to be
accredited at the time of the grant award. The University
further challenges as arbitrary and capricious the deadline
imposed by the DOL for the University to regain
accreditation. The parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment are now ripe for adjudication. Upon consideration of
the pleadings, relevant law, related legal memoranda in
opposition and in support, and the entire record, the Court
finds that the relevant statutes required the University to
maintain its accreditation throughout the term of the grant
and that neither the DOL's decision to terminate the
grant nor its deadline for the University to regain
accreditation were arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the
Plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Defendants'
cross-motion for summary judgement will be granted.
early 2013, the DOL published notice of a coming award of
funds under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College
and Career Training grant program. J.A. at 1, ECF No.
28-1. The statute authorizing the grant program,
19 U.S.C. § 2371, allows the DOL to award a grant to an
“eligible institution, ” meaning “an
institution of higher education (as defined in section 1002
of Title 20).” 19 U.S.C. §§ 2371(a)(1),
(b)(1). As defined, an “institution of higher
education” is an institution which “is accredited
by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or
association.” 20 U.S.C. § 1002(a)(1)
(cross-referencing to 20 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(5)).
this grant program, the DOL awarded the University a $2.75
million grant for a performance term between October 1, 2013,
and September 30, 2017. J.A. at 11. The award notification
specified that the University must “fully comply with
the following regulations” including “29 C.F.R.
Part 95.” Id. Under Part 95, the DOL has the
authority to terminate a grant if “a recipient
materially fails to comply with the terms and conditions of
an award, whether stated in a Federal statute, regulation,
assurance, application, or notice of award.” 29 C.F.R.
§ 95.62(a)(3); see also 29 C.F.R. §
time the University received the grant, it was accredited by
the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
(the “Council”), a non-governmental organization.
See Am. Compl. ¶ 17, ECF No. 31. On August 21,
2014, the Council revoked the University's accreditation
for “twelve (12) findings of non-compliance.”
J.A. at 36. The University internally appealed with the
Council, which upheld the revocation on January 5, 2015.
Id. The DOL subsequently sent an “Initial
Determination” to the University by letter dated
February 12, 2015. Id. at 43. The DOL's two
findings and determinations were that (1) the
University's accreditation was revoked by the Council and
the University must “provide evidence that its
accreditation has been reinstated” and (2) the
University's certification to operate in Virginia was
under review and may potentially be revoked. Id. at
University responded that (1) the Council had revoked its
accreditation but that appeal of this revocation was pending
before the Department of Education and (2) the revocation of
certification to operate in Virginia had been overturned at a
hearing. Id. at 48-49. On May 20, 2015, the
Department of Education denied the University's appeal,
stating that it “does not have the authority to
reverse, revise, or vacate accrediting decisions or to direct
an accrediting agency's decision.” Id. at
September 1, 2015, the DOL suspended the University's
grant through a “Final Determination” letter.
Id. at 69. Although the lack of certification to
operate in Virginia had been resolved, id. at 74-76,
the lack of accreditation remained uncorrected. Id.
at 72-74. The DOL, therefore, suspended the University's
grant effective September 16, 2015. Id. at 69.
Instead of immediately terminating the grant, however, the
DOL set a deadline of January 1, 2016 for the University to
regain accreditation and warned that if the University still
lacked accreditation after that date, the grant would be
terminated. Id. at 74.
November 2015, the Middles States Association of Colleges and
Schools Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools
(“MSA”) accepted the University as a candidate
for accreditation. Id. at 77. On December 15, 2015,
as the January 1, 2016 deadline drew near, MSA informed the
DOL that the University was “on track for an early 2016
school visit.” Id. at 80. If all went well
with the visit, MSA intended to make the University's
accreditation retroactive to December 1, 2015. Id.
February 8, 2016, the DOL sent a termination notice to the
University stating that “as of January 1, 2016, it is
our finding that Security University remains
unaccredited.” Id. at 81. The DOL addressed
the pending accreditation from MSA: “The possibility of
retroactive accreditation, which has not even been yet
approved or finalized, is not relevant to our determination.
Security University remained unaccredited as of January 1,
2016.” Id. The University quickly sought
reconsideration of this decision. Id. at 83-85.
While the reconsideration was pending, the University
received an “Official Notice of Accreditation”
from MSA beginning retroactively on December 1, 2015.
Id. at 86. On March 1, 2016, the DOL denied the
University's request for reconsideration, emphasizing
again that “regardless of the retroactive
accreditation, ” the fact remained that on January 1,
2016, the University was unaccredited and “not in
compliance with the grant requirements.” Id.
Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) authorizes
courts to review agency decisions. 5 U.S.C. § 702. A
court's review is limited to the administrative record,
and the court must determine if that record supports the
agency's decision. Coe v. McHugh, 968 F.Supp.2d
237, 239 (D.D.C. 2013). The court will grant summary judgment
to the agency if the agency action is “supported by the
administrative record and otherwise consistent with the APA
standard of review.” Id. at 240. On the other
hand, if the agency decision is “arbitrary, capricious,
an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with
law, ” the court will grant summary judgment to the
plaintiff. See 5 U.S.C. § 706. In resolving
this question, the court asks whether “the agency acted
within the scope of its legal authority, whether the agency
has explained its decision, whether the facts on which the
agency purports to have relied have some basis in the record,
and whether the agency considered the relevant
factors.” Fulbright v. McHugh, 67 F.Supp.3d
81, 89 (D.D.C. 2014), aff'd sub nom. Fulbright v.
Murphy, 650 Fed.Appx. 3 (D.C. Cir. 2016).