D.C. Circuit directs district court to reconsider legality of USDA inaction

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on January 10 unanimously ruled that a district court must reconsider a lawsuit arguing that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The American Anti-Vivisection Society and the Avian Welfare Coalition sued the USDA in an attempt to compel the agency to either issue bird handling standards or apply general standards for the humane treatment of animals to birds. Congress amended the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 2002 to protect birds and required the USDA to set standards for the animals’ humane treatment, but the agency failed to issue the standards.

The animal rights groups argued that the USDA violated the APA’s arbitrary-or-capricious test as well as its prohibition against withheld or delayed actions by failing to publish standards for birds. The arbitrary-or-capricious test requires that courts reviewing agency actions throw out any that they find to be “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The D.C. Circuit panel agreed with the district court that the arbitrary-or-capricious challenge failed because the USDA had not yet taken final action regarding the treatment of birds under the AWA. However, the D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the additional APA challenge, holding that the district court must now consider whether the USDA unreasonably delayed issuing standards for the protection of birds.

Judge David Tatel, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote the panel opinion. Judges Cornelia T. L. Pillard and Robert Leon Wilkins, Barack Obama appointees, joined in the opinion.

Click here to learn more about the APA.
Click here to learn more about the arbitrary-or-capricious test.

Additional reading:
U.S. Department of Agriculture 
D.C. Circuit 
United States District Court for the District of Columbia 
David Tatel
Cornelia T. L. Pillard
Robert Leon Wilkins

Click here to read the D.C. Circuit’s decision.