Heckler v. Chaney

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Plaintiffs are convicted of capital offenses and sentenced to death by legal injection of drugs. They FDA take enforcement action to prevent the use of the drugs in the lethal injections because they were not regulated by the FDA. The FDA did not enforce the action.

Procedural History

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that the refusal to take enforcement action was reviewable and was an abuse of discretion. The court of appeals founds law to apply in the FDA policy statement that said it was obligated to investigate widespread drug use that endangered public health.


The court first differentiates section 701(a)(1) and 701(a)(2).

  • 701(a)(1): "applies when Congress has expressed an intent to preclude judicial review"
  • 701(a)(2): Even when a court "has not affirmatively precluded review, review is not to be had if the statute is drawn so that a court would have no meaningful standard against which to judge the agency's exercise of discretion.

The court goes on to say that "this court has recognized on several occasions over many years that an agency's decision not to prosecute or enforce, whether through civil or criminal process, is a decision generally committed to an agency's absolute discretion. This recognition of the existence of discretion is attributable in no small part to the general unsuitability for judicial review of agency decisions to refuse enforcement." The court goes on to state a number of reasons why judicial review is unsuitable for a decision on not to enforce.