123 F.3d 327 (5th Cir. 1997), 95-50902, Winters Ranch Partnership v. Viadero

Docket Nº:95-50902.
Citation:123 F.3d 327
Party Name:WINTERS RANCH PARTNERSHIP, a Texas partnership; David W. Winters; Sara F. Winters; Thomas D. Winters; John C. Winters, Plaintiffs-Counter Defendants-Appellees, v. Roger C. VIADERO, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Defendant-Counter Claimant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 01, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 327

123 F.3d 327 (5th Cir. 1997)

WINTERS RANCH PARTNERSHIP, a Texas partnership; David W.

Winters; Sara F. Winters; Thomas D. Winters;

John C. Winters, Plaintiffs-Counter

Defendants-Appellees,

v.

Roger C. VIADERO, Inspector General, U.S. Department of

Agriculture, Defendant-Counter Claimant-Appellant.

No. 95-50902.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 1, 1997

Page 328

Alan Robert Malasky, Jenkins & Gilchrist, William Ernest Penn, Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, John R. Foster, Lowrey, Foster & Hodge, Del Rio, TX, for Plaintiffs-Counter Defendants-Appellees.

Jeffrey A. Clair, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Appellate Staff, Washington, DC, for Defendant-Counter Claimant-Appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before GARWOOD, BARKSDALE and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

DENNIS, Circuit Judge:

Appellant, the Inspector General (of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)) ("IG"), seeks summary enforcement of administrative subpoenas duces tecum issued to Appellees, Winters Ranch Partnership and its individual partners (collectively, "the WRP group"). The WRP group contends that the subpoenas were issued pursuant to an investigation which exceeds the IG's statutory authority under the Inspector General Act and are, therefore, unenforceable. The district court granted WRP's motion for summary judgment and denied the IG's motion for summary judgment, holding that the subpoenas were not issued for a purpose within the statutory authority of the IG and denying the enforcement of the subpoenas. Winters Ranch Partnership v. Viadero, 901 F.Supp. 237, 242 (W.D.Tex.1995). We determine that the IG issued the subpoenas for a purpose within the IG's statutory authority, viz, to test the efficiency of the Consolidated Farm Service Agency's implementation of payment limitations in the wool and mohair price support programs. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's judgment and render summary judgment ordering enforcement of the subpoenas.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiffs-Appellees, Winters Ranch Partnership ("WRP") and its individual partners, David W. Winters, his wife Sarah R. Winters, and their children Thomas D. Winters and John C. Winters (collectively, "the WRP group") have interests in a sheep and goat ranch that produces wool and mohair. Based on their representations that each partner was an active producer of wool and mohair, all of the WRP partners received price support

Page 329

payments under the federal wool and mohair price support programs for marketing years 1991, 1992, and 1993. The Consolidated Farm Service Agency ("CFSA") is the federal agency statutorily authorized to administer the price support program. In 1993, the Inspector General formulated a plan to investigate and audit the CFSA's implementation of the payment limitation and eligibility requirements for participation in federal wool and mohair support programs. In connection with this investigation, the IG selected a sample of six price support recipients out of the total number of recipients and proceeded to investigate these subjects to test whether the agency's administration of the program effectively prevented violations of payment limitation and eligibility requirements. The WRP group was one of the six producer-recipients selected for the investigation. The IG began by requesting information to determine whether the WRP group's farming operation was carried out in 1991 and 1992 as represented to the CFSA. The WRP group cooperated for several months by producing the documents requested. The IG's review of the documents submitted by the WRP group revealed that the partners actual participation in the farming operations for marketing years 1991, 1992, and 1993 were different from that represented to the CFSA. The IG notified the CFSA of these discrepancies and recommended that the CFSA initiate its own investigation. On December 16, 1994, the CFSA began its own review to determine if WRP farming operations were as represented to the CFSA for program payment limitation and payment eligibility requirements. On January 4, 1995, the WRP group informed the IG that it would no longer respond to the IG's requests for information and instead would cooperate only with the CFSA. On February 1, 1995, the IG issued administrative subpoenas seeking information relating to the WRP group's eligibility for price support payments in 1991 through 1993.

The WRP group refused to comply with the subpoenas and filed this action for declaratory judgment that the subpoenas were not issued for a purpose within the IG's statutory authority. The IG filed a counterclaim seeking enforcement of the subpoenas. Subsequently, the adverse parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the WRP group and denied the IG's motion for summary judgment. The IG appealed from the district court's judgment.

II. Legal Principles

  1. Administrative Subpoenas

    When called upon to enforce an administrative subpoena, a court's role is limited to evaluating whether (1) the subpoena was issued for a lawful purpose within the statutory authority of the issuing agency; (2) the documents requested are relevant to that purpose; and (3) the subpoena demand is reasonable and not unduly burdensome. See, e.g., Oklahoma Press Publ. Co. v. Walling, 327 U.S. 186, 209, 66 S.Ct. 494, 506, 90 L.Ed. 614 (1946); Endicott Johnson Corp. v. Perkins, 317 U.S. 501, 509, 63 S.Ct. 339, 343, 87 L.Ed. 424 (1942); Burlington N. R.R. Co. v. Office of Inspector Gen., R.R. Retirement Bd., 983 F.2d 631, 637 (5th Cir.1993) (citing United States v. Morton Salt Co., 338 U.S. 632, 652, 70 S.Ct. 357, 368-69, 94 L.Ed. 401 (1950); United States v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 788 F.2d 164, 166 (3d Cir.1986); Federal Election Comm'n v. Florida for Kennedy Comm., 681 F.2d 1281, 1284 (11th Cir.1982); United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48, 58, 85 S.Ct. 248, 255, 13 L.Ed.2d 112 (1964)); United States v. Security State Bank & Trust, 473 F.2d 638, 641 (5th Cir.1973); see also RTC v. Walde, 18 F.3d 943, 946 (D.C.Cir.1994); Linde Thomson Langworthy Kohn & Van Dyke, P.C. v. RTC, 5 F.3d 1508, 1513 (D.C.Cir.1993); F.T.C. v. Texaco, 555 F.2d 862, 872 (D.C.Cir.1977) (en banc) (citations omitted). The WRP group principally contends that the subpoenas were not issued for a purpose within the IG's authority. The WRP group did not vigorously raise or address the issues of whether the subpoenas sought irrelevant information or were unduly broad or burdensome. 1 The district court's

    Page 330

    ruling was restricted to the authority of the IG to issue the subpoenas.

  2. Inspector General Act

    The Office of Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture was established by the Inspector General Act. Inspector General Act of 1978, Pub.L. No. 95-452 (codified in 5 U.S.C. app. 3 §§ 1-12). Congress created the Office of Inspector General for the express purpose of combating "fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in the programs and operations of the federal government." S.REP. NO. 95-1071, at 1, reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2676, 2676. An office of Inspector General is established in executive departments and executive agencies to act as an independent and objective unit "(1) to conduct and supervise audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations of [the agency]," (2) to recommend policies for "activities designed (A) to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness" in the agency's programs and operations, and "(B) to prevent and detect fraud and abuse" therein, and (3) to provide a means to keep the agency head and Congress informed of problems and deficiencies in the agency's programs and operations and to...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP