Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe 401 U.S. 402 (1971)
The Department of
Transportation wanted to build a highway through Overton Park.
Since the park was Federal
land, they didn't need to use eminent domain, or take private lands.
However, Department of Transportation Act § 4(f) required that DOT show that there were no
"feasible or prudent alternatives" to building through a
Local citizens banded together
to try to preserve the park. They participated in the DOT adjudication
Procedure Act (APA) §555.
The Secretary of
Transportation (Volpe) announced that the project had been approved.
Volpe provided no factual
findings about how DOT came to its decision.
The Citizens sued for an
The Citizens argued that
Volpe's decision was not supportable, based on the no "feasible or
prudent alternatives" standard.
The Citizens sought to take
the deposition of some DOT officials who were involved in the decision.
The Trial Court found for DOT.
The Citizens appealed.
The Trial Court found that
formal factual findings were not required by the APA.
The Court found that Volpe
had not exceeded his authority.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Citizens appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
The US Supreme Court found
that Volpe's actions were judicially reviewable based on APA §701.
The Court found that when
conducting judicial reviews, courts
must conduct a substantial inquiry and determine whether:
The Secretary acted within
the scope of his authority.
His decision was within
the small range of available choices.
He could have reasonably
believed that there were no feasible alternatives.
The actual choice was not
"arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with
He followed the necessary
See APA §706 for guidance on what the courts can and
This is known as the Hard
See Motor Vehicle Manufacturer's
Ass'n v. State Farm Ins. (463
U.S. 29 (1983)).
It's not the Court that
takes the hard look, it just makes sure that the Agency has taken a
hard look at the issues.
Since there is a
"substantive legal standard" set out in the Statute, the decision
is judicially reviewable. If
there were no standards, then the decision would be committed
to Agency discretion, and therefore
not judicially reviewable
Basically, in order to be judicially
reviewable, there must be a question
of law, and not just questions
The Court found that the
proper standard of review was arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of
discretion, as opposed to substantial
evidence, or de novo review.
APA §706 says that de novo review is
only available if the Agency's fact-finding procedures are inadequate,
Substantial evidence is only for formal rulemaking and individual
trial-type proceedings (see APA §§556-557).
The Court remanded the case
back to the Trial Court to determine if Volpe acted within his authority,
and gave the Trial Court the authority to require depositions of DOT
officials and a presentation of formal findings by DOT.
Basically, there was not
enough in the record to make a determination as to whether the decision
was arbitrary or capricious, so they told DOT to go back and add more
information to the record.
That means not just data,
but also an explanation of why they made their decision.
The basic point of this case
is that decisions made by Administrative Agencies are judicially
reviewable, but that review is limited
to ensuring that the Agency was acting within the scope of their authority
and that their decisions are not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.
The courts will not reverse
an Agency decision. If they find that the Agency cannot support their
decision with the record, they simply tell the Agency to go back, do some
research, and come to a more supportable position.
So even if you win a case
like this, there is a good chance that the Agency will come back with
the same final decision, with just a different reasoning.