Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe
Department of Transportation Act and Federal-Aid Highway Act prohibit the Secretary of Transportation to use federal funds to create highways through public parks if there is a "feasible and prudent" alternative to the route. Overton Park is a park in Memphis that the Secretary is trying to build a highway through.
- Is the defendant's decision subject to judicial review?
- If is it, what is the standard for review?
Plaintiff claims that the Secretary did not make a formal finding as to the feasibility of the highway. They also claim that it would be feasible and prudent to create the highway around the park. Respondents say that it was unnecessary for the respondents to make formal findings and that he used his own judgment.
As to the first question, the court states that section 701 of the APA says that "each authority of the Government of the United States" is subject to judicial review except when the review is prohibited by law or where agency action is committed to agency discretion by law. Neither of these exceptions apply because the court states that there is "law to apply" since Congress has statutes that call for protection to apply.
Next it is to be determined by which standard to review the decision. Section 706 of the APA says that agency findings and actions have to meet six standards. Plaintiff claims that the 706(2)(E) and (F) standards have not been met. The court states that 706(2)(E) does not apply because that applies only to rule making or public adjudicatory hearings. Further 706(F) only apples when there is an adjudication and the agency fact finding procedures were inadequate or when issues that were not before the agency are raised in a proceeding to enforce non adjudicatory agency action.
Section 706 does require courts to engage in "substantial inquiry". Courts must determine the scope of the authority (this requires finding the authority of the secretary and whether he was within this scope), whether the findings were arbitrary and capricious (this requires to see if the Secretary considered all factors and whether there was a clear error in judgment -- the court cannot substitute its judgment), and whether the proper procedural requirements were followed.
In this case the problem is not the absence of formal findings but because there was no contemporary rationalization of the findings. Rather all of the rationalization was done post hoc. The court remands to the case to the district court. The Secretary will be able to at this time provide rationalization, but since this will be post hoc, it should be viewed critically.