Ripeness of Question for Judicial Review

Generally, an administrative action is not reviewable in a court unless and until the action results in the imposition of an obligation, denial of a right, or fixing of some legal relationship as a consummation of the administrative process. Under any of such circumstances, a case can be considered ripe for judicial review.[i] According to the doctrine of ripeness, cases are declared not ripe for judicial intervention when the injuries are too speculative, or never occurring. The rationale behind the ripeness doctrine is that a court should not issue premature judgments based on abstract disagreements.[ii] The doctrine protects administrative agencies from judicial interference until a final agency decision is reached.

In order to consider whether an agency’s decision is ripe or not for judicial review, courts should take into account the following details:

  • whether delayed judicial review would cause hardship to the plaintiffs.
  • whether judicial intervention would be inappropriate because it would interfere with further administrative action; and
  • whether the courts can benefit from further factual development of the issues presented for final adjudication of a case.[iii]

The courts should also consider logical components such as, whether the agency’s actions or inactions challenged in the lawsuit are final, whether legal issues are presented for review, and whether all administrative remedies are exhausted before approaching the judiciary.

Generally, a pre-enforcement judicial review is restricted. A pre-enforcement challenge is one brought by a party who is not aggrieved by any of the rules and regulations formulated by the agency. However, a court can review a pre-enforcement challenge that has a direct and immediate impact on the parties bringing the case. A regulation that replaces a previous regulation and which effects immediately is ripe for review at the earliest.[iv]

The courts generally, review legal questions in final orders from agencies. The finality requirement is because of the reasoned policy judgments that administrative processes should proceed with a minimum of interruption. This policy reflected in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) provides that a final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy can be subject to judicial review.

When a petition for reconsideration of a petition is pending in an agency action, the agency decision cannot be considered final. Courts will not have jurisdiction to review such pending actions because the action is unripe. However, judicial review can be applied once the decision acquires finality.

When a claimant applies to both a court and an agency for adjudication of the same question of law it cannot be justified. This is because such a system only leads to a waste of resources on the part of the agency, the court, or both, without any countervailing benefit.

In certain circumstances, an agency’s failure to act can become a final agency action. The circumstances when a claim against an agency will be ripe for review arise, if an agency:

  • positively rejects a proposed course of action,
  • unreasonably delays in responding to a request for action until the requested action would be ineffective.

According to the APA, informal agency adjudications are reviewable. Informal agency action can be considered as final agency action when direct and immediate impact results on regulated industries. When regulated parties have reliance on the action it is considered as a final agency decision. When the agency expresses an action as a final position in the matter in issue it court can take it as final action.

Generally, judicial review is refused when the agency action is not final. When an agency action is only anticipated, or when an action is pending for final disposal; judicial review can be denied. Non-final agency actions are interlocutorily reviewable in extraordinary circumstances when there is a clear violation of law.[v] The rule or regulation created according to APA, can be brought forward for judicial review only when it is applied on certain situations in a manner that the rule harms the claimant.[vi]

When an administrative action is classified as judicial, courts can, with or without express authorization, review an administrative agency action.[vii] Administrative agencies’ orders are subject to judicial review according to the statutes created by the legislature. The Legislature allows judicial review of administrative orders to ensure that the agencies remain within the bounds of the laws created by legislatures.[viii]

[i] City of Fall River v. FERC, 507 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2007)

[ii] Nat’l Park Hospitality Ass’n v. DOI, 538 U.S. 803 (U.S. 2003)

[iii] Schultz v. Warren County, 249 S.W.3d 898 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008)

[iv] Office of Communication of United Church of Christ v. FCC, 826 F.2d 101 (D.C. Cir. 1987)

[v] Gulf Oil Corp. v. United States Dep’t of Energy, 663 F.2d 296 (D.C. Cir. 1981)

[vi] Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm’n, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100093 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2009)

[vii] United States v. Morgan, 313 U.S. 409 (U.S. 1941)

[viii] State v. Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co., 54 N.M. 315 (N.M. 1950)


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