In January we featured a short post about City of Arlington, Texas v. FCC, 668 F.3d 229 (5th Cir. 2012), an interesting case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, involving administrative law and the Chevron doctrine. Incidentally, the secondary, underlying substantive issue in the lower court related to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) definition of a "reasonable period of time" for the local board to issue a decision for siting a telecommunications tower under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The City of Arlington ultimately challenged the FCC's interpretation of what that timeframe should be, which the FCC had issued via a declaratory ruling in 2009.*
We want to update you that, on May 20th, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision that affirmed the Fifth Circuit's decision. The only issue before the Supreme Court (on certiorari) was "whether an agency's interpretation of a statutory ambiguity that concerns the scope of its regulatory authority (that is, its jurisdiction) is entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984)."
The Supreme Court's decision ultimately resolves the question affirmatively. That is, administrative agencies, like the FCC here, are entitled to Chevron deference when they interpret the scope of their own jurisdiction, so long as such interpretation is reasonable. This, of course, assumes that Chevron even applies in the first instance-namely, that there is an ambiguity in the applicable agency statute.
A copy of the full decision can be accessed here. SCOTUSblog has a bit more information about the procedural history of the case, and a very thorough analysis of the decision entitled, "Opinion analysis-"Pandora's Box" stays closed" (if you're feeling lazy, scroll down to the section entitled "The decision in Plain English").
* In its 2009 declaratory ruling, the FCC had defined a "reasonable period of time" under §332(c)(7)(B)(ii), to be "presumptively (but rebuttably) 90 days to process a collocation application (that is, an application to place a new antenna on an existing tower) and 150 days to process all other applications." However, several state and local governments rejected this definition, arguing that the FCC did not have the authority to interpret this provision of the TCA. We now know from this ruling that, in fact, they do.
Written by Kristen M. Ploetz, Esq., of Green Lodestar Communications & Consulting, LLC, on behalf of Jeffrey T. Angley, P.C. Edited by Jeffrey T. Angley, Esq.
Copyright (c) 2011-2013 by Jeffrey T. Angley, P.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is general in nature and for educational purposes only. No personal legal advice is being provided. If you have an actual legal issue that needs to be addressed, you should seek the advice of competent legal counsel. This post does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Jeffrey T. Angley, P.C., Phillips & Angley or their attorneys.