United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court is asked to adjudicate for the second time whether the
Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) properly
denied a request by the Animal Legal Defense Fund
(“ALDF”) to intervene in administrative
proceedings against the Cricket Hollow Zoo. Last year, after
ALDF challenged the first denial, the Court found that
USDA's Judicial Officer had incorrectly applied the
relevant law, vacated his decision, and remanded the case to
the agency for reconsideration. See ALDF v. Vilsack,
237 F.Supp.3d 15 (D.D.C. 2017). Upon reconsideration, the
Judicial Officer once again denied ALDF's request to
intervene, prompting this related case in which ALDF contends
that he again acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary
now moves for summary judgment and asks the Court to order
the Judicial Officer to permit its intervention. USDA, for
its part, moves to dismiss the case as moot or, in the
alternative, seeks summary judgment in its favor. The Court
concludes that because it could grant ALDF an effective
remedy, the case is not moot. Accordingly, the Court will
deny USDA's motion to dismiss. But the Court also finds
that the Judicial Officer's denial of ALDF's
intervention applied the correct legal standards and did so
in a reasonable way. Therefore, the Court will grant
USDA's motion for summary judgment and deny ALDF's.
Court's decision in the earlier iteration of this dispute
details many of the relevant facts underlying USDA's
enforcement action and ALDF's desired intervention.
See Vilsack, 237 F.Supp.3d at 19-20. The Court
Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (“AWA”), 7 U.S.C.
§ 2131 et seq., and its implementing
regulations establish minimum standards of care and treatment
for animals exhibited to the public. The Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”), a component
of USDA, licenses animal exhibitors under the Act and
enforces its care and treatment standards.
to that authority, APHIS initiated an administrative
enforcement action against Cricket Hollow Zoo, a family-owned
menagerie in Manchester, Iowa with a history of
non-compliance with the AWA's care and treatment
standards. ALDF, which had previously sued Cricket Hollow
directly and had sued USDA for its continued renewal of
Cricket Hollow's license, sought to intervene in the
enforcement proceeding to advocate for revocation of the
license and humane relocation of Cricket Hollow's animals
(“relocation remedy”). The presiding
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied
ALDF's motion and the Judicial Officer upheld that
decision on appeal.
sued and this Court found that the Judicial Officer had acted
arbitrarily and capriciously in denying intervention under
§ 555(b) of the Administrative Procedure Act
(“APA”), which entitles “an interested
person” to appear before an agency proceeding
“[s]o far as the orderly conduct of public business
permits[.]” 5 U.S.C. § 555(b). The Court held that
the Judicial Officer had failed to properly consider
ALDF's stated interests in intervention and remanded the
case to the Judicial Officer to reconsider ALDF's
request. Vilsack, 237 F.Supp.3d at 24. In so doing,
the Court noted that courts “have for the most part
permitted denials [of intervention] . . . when, for example,
other parties to the proceeding adequately represent the
would-be intervenor's viewpoint or intervention would
broaden unduly the issues considered, obstruct or overburden
the proceedings, or fail to assist the agency's
decisionmaking.” Id. at 22 (alteration in
original) (quoting Nichols v. Bd. of Trustees of Asbestos
Workers Local 24 Pension Plan, 835 F.2d 881, 897 (D.C.
remand, the Judicial Officer again denied ALDF's
intervention, in part because he concluded that its arguments
for a relocation remedy would not be relevant or useful to
the ALJ. Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 696-705.
ALDF again sued, contending that this determination failed to
properly consider the ways in which the ALJ's enforcement
powers could yield the relocation remedy. In the interim, the
ALJ issued his decision, documenting significant AWA
violations by Cricket Hollow, revoking its license, and
imposing a civil monetary penalty. Id. at 708-887.
Cricket Hollow administratively appealed that decision, and
the appeal is pending. Id. at 894-95.
Motion to Dismiss
courts lack jurisdiction to decide moot cases because their
constitutional authority extends only to actual cases or
controversies.” Conservation Force, Inc. v.
Jewell, 733 F.3d 1200, 1204 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting
Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67,
70 (1983)). A case becomes moot “when the issues
presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally
cognizable interest in the outcome.” Larsen v. U.S.
Navy, 525 F.3d 1, 3-4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting
County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S.
625, 631 (1979)). A party may lack a legally cognizable
interest in the outcome “when, among other things, the
court can provide no effective remedy because a party has
already obtained all the relief it has sought, ”
Jewell, 733 F.3d at 1204 (internal quotation marks
and punctuation omitted), or “when intervening events
make it impossible to grant the prevailing party effective
relief, ” Lemon v. Geren, 514 F.3d 1312, 1315
(D.C. Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).
mootness deprives the court of subject-matter jurisdiction, a
motion to dismiss for mootness is properly brought under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See DL
v. District of Columbia, 187 F.Supp.3d 1, 5 (D.D.C.
2016). In assessing a 12(b)(1) motion, the Court must
“treat the complaint's factual allegations as true
and afford the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that
can be derived from the facts alleged.” Jeong Seon
Han v. Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 103 (D.D.C. 2016)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, “the
Court ‘may consider materials outside the pleadings in
deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of
jurisdiction.'” Delta Air Lines, Inc. v.
Export-Import Bank, 85 F.Supp.3d 250, 259 (D.D.C. 2015)
(quoting Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402
F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005)).
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). Summary judgment is the proper stage for
determining whether, as a matter of law, an agency action
complies with the APA and is supported by the administrative
record. Richards v. INS, 554 F.2d 1173, 1177 (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), and precludes the Court from “substitut[ing]
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.
(internal quotation marks omitted). 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 ...