D.C. Circuit Denies EPA Motion for Summary Affirmance of District Court Order Dismissing ESA Complaint for New Pesticide

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On December 7, 2015, in Case Nos. 14-1036 and 15-5168, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an order denying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion for summary affirmance of an order issued by the D.C. District Court dismissing a complaint filed by Plaintiffs-Appellants Center for Biological Diversity, et al. (the Center) for lack of jurisdiction. The Center’s complaint alleged that EPA violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by registering pesticides containing the new active ingredient cyantraniliprole without first consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

EPA’s motion, filed on August 27, 2015, moved for summary affirmance of the district court’s order dismissing the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, stating that “the district court’s determination that exclusive jurisdiction over the Center’s claims lies in the courts of appeals under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA or the Act), Section 16(b), 7 U.S.C. § 136n(b), is so plainly correct that summary affirmance is warranted,” and “FIFRA’s special judicial review procedure applies to this case because the Center challenges EPA’s registration of cyantraniliprole, which is regulated by FIFRA.” The Center argues that the district court has separate jurisdiction under the citizen suit provision of the ESA and/or that jurisdiction lies in the district court because there has been no public hearing under FIFRA Section 16(b).

The order denying the motion states that the “merits of the parties’ positions are not so clear as to warrant summary action.” Opening briefs are due beginning January 19, 2016, and final briefs are due April 8, 2015.

Commentary

Although the general division of jurisdiction between U.S. district courts under FIFRA Section 16(a) and U.S. courts of appeal under FIFRA Section 16(b) has been construed differently, in general, since the 1986 D.C. Circuit decision Humane Society v. EPA, whether there has been a “public hearing” within the meaning of FIFRA Section 16(b) is determined based on the adequacy of the record for appellate review. Since cyantraniliprole is a new active ingredient, EPA provided notice and an opportunity for comment under FIFRA Section 3(c)(4) before granting the registrations in question, so the record compiled by EPA appears to satisfy this test. The decision of the D.C. Circuit to deny EPA’s motion for summary affirmance may reflect the stringent standard that must be met for such an action, rather than an indication of how the D.C. Circuit will ultimately rule on the merits.

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