Federal-Question Jurisdiction for Review of Administrative Decisions

Federal jurisdictional statute provides that the district courts have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the U.S.[i] Thus, when there is a federal question, Federal District Court has Original Jurisdiction.  In Blagojevich v. Gates, 519 F.3d 370 (7th Cir. Ill. 2008), the court held that a district court has jurisdiction when a claim arises under federal law, the federal government is the defendant, and the suit does not seek the kind of monetary damages that allocate proceedings to the United States Court of Federal Claims.

A federal district court has subject matter jurisdiction over a case if the right or immunity claimed is such that it will be supported if the Constitution or laws of the U.S. are given one construction or effect and defeated if they receive another.  As long as the federal question raised is neither frivolous nor immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction, the courts will not dismiss a claim for lack of jurisdiction.[ii]

In Maryland Dep’t of Human Resources v. Department of Health & Human Services, 763 F.2d 1441 (D.C. Cir. 1985), the court held that, in administrative cases where the organic statute is silent on the subject of judicial review, the presumption that review is available, coupled with the absence of any indication in the statute that the decision is committed wholly to the discretion of the agency or that review is otherwise precluded, leads to the conclusion that the district court would have had jurisdiction under the general grant of jurisdiction over cases involving federal questions.

However, the federal district court’s federal question jurisdiction is subject to preclusion-of-review statutes created or retained by Congress.  Congress’s intention to do so should be manifested by clear and convincing evidence.[iii]

In Public Citizen, Inc. v. Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Admin., 489 F.3d 1279 (D.C. Cir. 2007), the court held that since district courts have general federal question jurisdiction, the normal default rule is that persons seeking review of agency action go first to district court rather than to a court of appeals.  Initial review of agency decisions occurs at the appellate level only when a direct-review statute specifically gives the court of appeals subject-matter jurisdiction to directly review agency action.

[i] 28 USCS § 1331

[ii] Sarit v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 759 F. Supp. 63 (D.R.I. 1991)

[iii] Langson v. Simon, 74 F.R.D. 456 (N.D. Ill. 1977)


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