569 U.S. 290 (2013), 11-1545, City of Arlington v. Federal Communications Commission

Docket Nº:11-1545, 11-1547
Citation:569 U.S. 290, 133 S.Ct. 1863, 185 L.Ed.2d 941, 81 U.S.L.W. 4299, 24 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 189
Opinion Judge:Scalia, Justice
Party Name:CITY OF ARLINGTON, TEXAS, et al., Petitioners (No. 11-1545) v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION et al. CABLE, TELECOMMUNICATIONS, AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE OF NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL (No. 11-1547)
Attorney:Thomas C. Goldstein argued the cause for petitioners. Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued the cause for respondents.
Judge Panel:Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Roberts, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy and Alito, JJ., joined, post, p.___. Justice B...
Case Date:May 20, 2013
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 290

569 U.S. 290 (2013)

133 S.Ct. 1863, 185 L.Ed.2d 941, 81 U.S.L.W. 4299, 24 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 189

CITY OF ARLINGTON, TEXAS, et al., Petitioners (No. 11-1545)

v.

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION et al.

CABLE, TELECOMMUNICATIONS, AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE OF NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL (No. 11-1547)

Nos. 11-1545, 11-1547

United States Supreme Court

May 20, 2013

Argued January 16, 2013,[*]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ON WRITS OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

City of Arlington v. FCC, 668 F.3d 229 (5th Cir., 2012)

SYLLABUS

[133 S.Ct. 1864] The Communications Act of 1934, as amended, requires state or local governments to act on siting applications for wireless facilities " within a [185 L.Ed.2d 947] reasonable period of time after the request is duly filed." 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(B)(ii). Relying on its broad authority to implement the Communications Act, see 47 U.S.C. § 201(b), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) issued a Declaratory Ruling concluding that the phrase " reasonable period of time" is presumptively (but rebuttably) 90 days to process an application to place a new antenna on an existing tower and 150 days to process all other applications. The cities of Arlington and San Antonio, Texas, sought review of the Declaratory Ruling in the Fifth Circuit. They argued that the Commission lacked authority to interpret § 332(c)(7)(B)s limitations. The Court of Appeals, relying on Circuit precedent holding that Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694, applies to an agency's interpretation of its own statutory jurisdiction, applied Chevron to that question. Finding the statute ambiguous, it upheld as a permissible construction of the statute the FCC's view that § 201(b)'s broad grant of regulatory authority empowered it to administer § 332(c)(7)(B).

Held: Courts must apply the Chevron framework to an agency's interpretation of a statutory ambiguity that concerns the scope of the agency's statutory authority ( i.e., its jurisdiction). Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 950-958.

(a) Under Chevron, a reviewing court must first ask whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue; if so, the court must give effect to Congress' unambiguously expressed intent. 467 U.S., at 842-843, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694. However, if " the statute is silent or ambiguous," the court must defer to the administering agency's construction of the statute so long as it is permissible. Id., at 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 950-951.

(b) When a court reviews an agency's interpretation of a statute it administers, the question is always, simply, whether the agency has stayed within the bounds of its statutory authority. There is no distinction between an agency's " jurisdictional" and " nonjurisdictional" interpretations. The " jurisdictional-nonjurisdictional" line is meaningful in the judicial context because Congress has the power to tell the courts what classes of cases they may decide--that is, to define their jurisdiction--but not to prescribe how they decide those cases. But for agencies charged with administering congressional statutes, both [133 S.Ct. 1865] their power to act and how they are to act is authoritatively prescribed by Congress, so that when they act improperly, no less than when they act beyond their jurisdiction, what they do is ultra vires. Because the question is always whether the agency has gone beyond what Congress has permitted it to do, there is no principled basis for carving out an arbitrary subset of " jurisdictional" questions from the Chevron framework. See, e.g., Nat'l Cable & Telecomms. Ass'n v. Gulf Power Co., 534 U.S. 327, 333, 339, 122 S.Ct. 782, 151 L.Ed.2d 794. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 951-953.

(c) This Court has consistently afforded Chevron deference to agencies' constructions of the scope of their own jurisdiction. See, e.g., Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Schor, 478 U.S. 833, 106 S.Ct. 3245, 92 L.Ed.2d 675; United States v. Eurodif S. [185 L.Ed.2d 948] A., 555 U.S. 305, 316, 129 S.Ct. 878, 172 L.Ed.2d 679. Chevron applies to statutes designed to curtail the scope of agency discretion, see Chemical Mfrs. Ass'n v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 470 U.S. 116, 123, 105 S.Ct. 1102, 84 L.Ed.2d 90, and even where concerns about agency self-aggrandizement are at their apogee-- i.e., where an agency's expansive construction of the extent of its own power would have wrought a fundamental change in the regulatory scheme, see FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 132, 120 S.Ct. 1291, 146 L.Ed.2d 121. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 953-956.

(d) The contention that Chevron deference is not appropriate here because the FCC asserted jurisdiction over matters of traditional state and local concern is meritless. These cases have nothing to do with federalism: The statute explicitly supplants state authority, so the question is simply whether a federal agency or federal courts will draw the lines to which the States must hew. P. ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 956.

(e) United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 121 S.Ct. 2164, 150 L.Ed.2d 292, requires that, for Chevron deference to apply, the agency must have received congressional authority to determine the particular matter at issue in the particular manner adopted. But Mead denied Chevron deference to action, by an agency with rulemaking authority, that was not rulemaking. There is no case in which a general conferral of rulemaking or adjudicative authority has been held insufficient to support Chevron deference for an exercise of that authority within the agency's substantive field. A general conferral of rulemaking authority validates rules for all the matters the agency is charged with administering. It suffices to decide these cases that the preconditions to deference under Chevron are satisfied because Congress has unambiguously vested the FCC with general authority to administer the Communications Act through rulemaking and adjudication, and the agency interpretation at issue was promulgated in the exercise of that authority. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 957-958.

668 F.3d 229, affirmed.

Thomas C. Goldstein argued the cause for petitioners.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued the cause for respondents.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Roberts, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy and Alito, JJ., joined, post, p.___.

OPINION

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[133 S.Ct. 1866] Scalia, Justice

We consider 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, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984).

I

Wireless telecommunications networks require towers and antennas; proposed sites for those towers and antennas must be approved by local [185 L.Ed.2d 949] zoning authorities. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress " impose[d] specific limitations on the traditional authority of state and local governments to regulate the location, construction, and modification of such facilities," Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 115, 125 S.Ct. 1453, 161 L.Ed.2d 316 (2005), and incorporated those limitations into the Communications Act of 1934, see 110 Stat. 56, 151. Section 201(b) of that Act empowers the (Federal Communications FCC or Commission), to " prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary in the public interest to carry out [its] provisions." Ch. 296, 52 Stat. 588, codified at 47 U.S.C. § 201(b). Of course, that rulemaking authority extends to the subsequently added portions of the Act. See AT& T Corp. v. Iowa Utilities Bd., 525 U.S. 366, 377-378, 119 S.Ct. 721, 142 L.Ed.2d 834 (1999).

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The Act imposes five substantive limitations, which are codified in 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(B); only one of them, § 332(c)(7)(B)(ii), is at issue here. That provision requires state or local governments to act on wireless-siting applications " within a reasonable period of time after the request is duly filed." Two other features of § 332(c)(7) are relevant. First, subparagraph (A), known as the " saving clause," provides that nothing in the Act, except those limitations provided in § 332(c)(7)(B), " shall limit or affect the authority of a State or local government" over siting decisions. Second, [133 S.Ct. 1867] § 332(c)(7)(B)(v) authorizes a person who believes a state or local government's wireless-siting decision to be inconsistent with any of the limitations in § 332(c)(7)(B) to " commence an action in any court of competent jurisdiction."

In theory, § 332(c)(7)(B)(ii) requires state and local zoning authorities to take prompt action on siting applications for wireless facilities. But in practice, wireless providers often faced long delays. In July 2008, CTIA The Wireless Association, 1 which represents wireless service providers, petitioned the FCC to clarify the meaning of § 332(c)(7)(B)(ii)'s requirement that zoning authorities act on siting requests " within a reasonable period of time." In November 2009, the Commission, relying on its broad statutory authority to implement the provisions of the Communications Act, issued a declaratory ruling responding to CTIA's petition. In re Petition for Declaratory Ruling, 24 FCC Rcd. 13994, 14001. The Commission found that the " record evidence demonstrates that...

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