Reuters Ltd. v. F.C.C., Nos. 84-1567

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtBefore MIKVA and STARR, Circuit Judges, and McGOWAN; STARR
Citation251 U.S.App.D.C. 93,781 F.2d 946
PartiesREUTERS LIMITED, Appellant, v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, Appellee, Associated Information Services Corp., Intervenor. REUTERS LIMITED, Petitioner, v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION and United States of America, Respondents, Associated Information Services Corp., Intervenor.
Decision Date13 March 1986
Docket NumberNos. 84-1567,84-1568

Page 946

781 F.2d 946
251 U.S.App.D.C. 93
REUTERS LIMITED, Appellant,
v.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, Appellee, Associated
Information Services Corp., Intervenor.
REUTERS LIMITED, Petitioner,
v.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION and United States of
America, Respondents, Associated Information
Services Corp., Intervenor.
Nos. 84-1567, 84-1568.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued Oct. 31, 1985.
Decided Jan. 24, 1986.
As Amended Jan. 24 and March 13, 1986.

Kenneth E. Hardman, with whom John F. Noble, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for appellant in No. 84-1567 and petitioner in No. 84-1568.

Page 947

Roberta L. Cook, Counsel, F.C.C., with whom J. Paul McGrath, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Justice, Jack D. Smith, Gen. Counsel, Daniel M. Armstrong, Associate Gen. Counsel, F.C.C., Catherine G. O'Sullivan and Edward T. Hand, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., were on brief, for appellee in No. 84-1567 and respondents in No. 84-1568.

Paul J. Berman, with whom Jonathan D. Blake, Washington, D.C., was on brief, for intervenor in Nos. 84-1567 and 84-1568.

Before MIKVA and STARR, Circuit Judges, and McGOWAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge STARR.

STARR, Circuit Judge:

A precept which lies at the foundation of the modern administrative state is that agencies must abide by their rules and regulations. We have frequently been called upon to apply that venerable principle of law and common sense, and the appeal before us today fits squarely into that long line of cases. We hold that the Federal Communications Commission improperly breached this fundamental precept of administrative law in what turns out to have been a misguided effort to achieve a fair resolution of a dispute between two competing license applicants.

The warring contestants are Reuters Limited, who appeals from the FCC's adverse action, 1 and Associated Information Services Corporation, the successful intervenor. The regulatory prize in question consists of thirteen microwave radio station licenses which had officially been granted to Reuters but which, in the face of Associated's strenuous protests, were rescinded by the Commission.

The background of the dispute can be briefly stated. Following a lengthy period when its earlier applications lay dormant at the Commission, Reuters filed new applications, pursuant to the Commission's order, for microwave radio licenses for a single channel in each of thirteen cities across the Nation. The applications were duly accepted for filing and listed on a Public Notice dated August 12, 1983. In the following month, on September 23, 1983, the Commission's Private Radio Bureau approved all thirteen applications.

On that same day, as coincidence would have it, Associated submitted thirty-nine applications for each of the available channels in the same thirteen cities for which Reuters had applied the preceding month. Associated's applications, as it turned out, were misfiled, having been submitted to the Commission's offices in Washington, D.C., whereas applicable FCC rules required that such applications be filed 80 miles to the north at the FCC's offices in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Thus it was that Associated's competing applications were not effectively filed until five days later--on September 28, 1983--when its thirty-nine applications found their way to Gettysburg. As a result, at the time of the grant to Reuters, no competing applications

Page 948

had been effectively filed. In due course, on October 12, 1983, the FCC mailed Reuters the thirteen licenses which bore the following words: "Effective Date--September 23, 1983."

With its competitor thus in possession of the thirteen licenses, Associated vehemently protested the grant. Associated contended that the Commission acted improperly in granting the licenses prior to the expiration of sixty days following the date on which new applications were accepted. In Associated's view, the Commission had represented quite clearly in a rulemaking proceeding that a full sixty-day period for filing applications would be allowed. Associated had specifically relied, it maintained, upon the Commission's statements to that effect in timing its thirty-nine applications. As Associated therefore saw it, the Private Radio Bureau had jumped the gun in issuing Reuters the thirteen licenses before the requisite sixty days had expired.

In stark contrast to this view, Reuters maintained that the Commission's rules governing microwave radio licenses expressly permitted licenses to be awarded after the expiration of thirty days following an application. At the time the Private Radio Bureau acted on Reuters' application, two critical factors were present: first, more than thirty days had expired from the initial date for accepting applications, as provided by the Commission's rules; and second, no competing applications were on file as of the date of the grant. In Reuters' view, therefore, Associated's complaints were belied by the Commission's express rules which spoke with crystalline clarity to the question at hand.

With the issue thus joined, the Private Radio Bureau resolved the dispute in favor of Associated. Rejecting outright Associated's broad contention that the Commission's rules and pronouncements did not admit of a license grant prior to expiration of the sixty-day period, the Bureau nonetheless concluded that Associated's applications were, in fact, mutually exclusive to those of Reuters inasmuch as the former's applications were on file in Gettysburg prior to the time the licenses were actually issued by and mailed from the Commission. While thus rejecting the thrust of Associated's arguments, the Bureau set aside Reuters' thirteen licenses and designated Associated's applications as mutually exclusive.

Reuters appealed to the full Commission. Invoking the FCC's rules with respect to the effective dates of licenses, Reuters maintained that the Private Radio Bureau had expressly designated an effective date for the licenses of September 23, 1983, not the date of mailing. As it had before the Bureau, Reuters won the specific legal battles but lost the war. Specifically, the FCC agreed that the Bureau could lawfully issue a license any time after thirty days following the Commission's announced date on which applications would be received. So too, the Commission rejected Associated's argument that the FCC's more recent pronouncements in its rulemaking proceeding had altered the long-standing rules governing the timing of license grants. Reuters likewise won the point that the effective date of its licenses was September 23, 1983, as opposed to a date tied to the later mailing of the licenses by the FCC, and that Associated's applications were not effectively filed until they reached Gettysburg, five days after the effective date of Reuters' licenses.

But Reuters' arguments, tied in lawyerly fashion to the Commission's pertinent rules, in the end fell short. The Commission concluded that considerations of fairness required evisceration of the Reuters license grants and that Associated be permitted to stand alongside Reuters as a full competitor for these licenses.

Both to understand the Commission's rationale and to set the stage for our resolution of this appeal, we pause to enter the somewhat labyrinthine paths of the Commission's rules and pronouncements which guided these two contenders along rather different roads in the application process. It will be recalled that Reuters' applications lay dormant at the Commission for some considerable period prior to the events which generated the case at hand. The reason for this period of Commission in-action, it would appear, was regulatory

Page 949

uncertainty over the uses to which microwave radio stations could properly be put. As we understand it, the Commission had for some time harbored rather restrictive views about such usages, but this regulatory narrowness was under assault from various quarters, including those anxious to employ such stations in the purveying of video entertainment programming, as opposed to the traditional use of these frequencies for point-to-point internal communications relating to the licensee's business. FCC Brief at 4. While the Commission was wrestling internally with these broad questions, Reuters' applications, filed initially in the early weeks of 1980, languished.

At length, the Commission came to rest in the rulemaking proceeding, identified as Docket No....

To continue reading

Request your trial
60 practice notes
  • Wilkinson v. Legal Services Corp., No. Civ.A. 91-0889 (JHG).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 19, 1998
    ...the law. United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196, 220-21, 1 S.Ct. 240, 27 L.Ed. 171 (1882); cf. Reuters Ltd. v. Federal Communications Comm., 781 F.2d 946, 947 (D.C.Cir. 1986) (Accardi doctrine is a "venerable" precept "which lies at the foundation of the modern administrative state"). Plausibly......
  • Law Offices of Seymour M. Chase, P.C. v. F.C.C., No. 87-1054
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 25, 1988
    ...of a legal relationship is all that is necessary to demonstrate the finality of an agency order for APA purposes. Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F.2d 946, 947 n. 1 (D.C.Cir.1986); Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 680 F.2d 810 (D.C.Cir.1982). Page 526 These......
  • Riverkeeper, Inc. v. U.S. E.P.A., Docket No. 04-6692-ag(L).
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • January 25, 2007
    ...contrary to its unambiguous meaning is the requirement that "an agency must adhere to its own rules and regulations." Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F.2d 946, 950 (D.C.Cir.1986). An agency may modify a regulation that has already been promulgated, therefore, only through the process of notice and......
  • Texas v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 16-60118
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 15, 2016
    ...own rules and regulations. Ad hoc departures from those rules, even to achieve laudable aims, cannot be sanctioned.” Reuters Ltd. v. FCC , 781 F.2d 946, 950 (D.C. Cir. 1986).EPA also defends the 2019 and 2021 deadlines by arguing that Texas ought not to benefit from Texas's delay in promulg......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
59 cases
  • Wilkinson v. Legal Services Corp., No. Civ.A. 91-0889 (JHG).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 19, 1998
    ...the law. United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196, 220-21, 1 S.Ct. 240, 27 L.Ed. 171 (1882); cf. Reuters Ltd. v. Federal Communications Comm., 781 F.2d 946, 947 (D.C.Cir. 1986) (Accardi doctrine is a "venerable" precept "which lies at the foundation of the modern administrative state"). Plausibly......
  • Law Offices of Seymour M. Chase, P.C. v. F.C.C., No. 87-1054
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 25, 1988
    ...of a legal relationship is all that is necessary to demonstrate the finality of an agency order for APA purposes. Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F.2d 946, 947 n. 1 (D.C.Cir.1986); Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 680 F.2d 810 (D.C.Cir.1982). Page 526 These......
  • Riverkeeper, Inc. v. U.S. E.P.A., Docket No. 04-6692-ag(L).
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • January 25, 2007
    ...contrary to its unambiguous meaning is the requirement that "an agency must adhere to its own rules and regulations." Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F.2d 946, 950 (D.C.Cir.1986). An agency may modify a regulation that has already been promulgated, therefore, only through the process of notice and......
  • Texas v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 16-60118
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 15, 2016
    ...own rules and regulations. Ad hoc departures from those rules, even to achieve laudable aims, cannot be sanctioned.” Reuters Ltd. v. FCC , 781 F.2d 946, 950 (D.C. Cir. 1986).EPA also defends the 2019 and 2021 deadlines by arguing that Texas ought not to benefit from Texas's delay in promulg......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 provisions
  • Antidumping: Welded carbon steel pipes and tubes from— Thailand,
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 21, 1999
    • October 21, 1999
    ...Slip Op. 99-27, March 23, 1999 at 9-10, n.9 citing Voge v. United States, 844 F. 2d 776, 779 (Fed. Cir. 1988); Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F. 2d 946, 950 (D.C. Cir. With regard to matching sales if purchase order date is used as the date of sale, petitioners assert that Saha Thai was well awar......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT