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Charlton v. United States

decided: June 2, 1969.

GEORGE N. CHARLTON, JR., APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND JOHN W. MACY, JR., J. LUDWIG ANDOLSEK AND ROBERT E. HAMPTON, MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION



Kalodner, Forman and Stahl, Circuit Judges. Stahl, Circuit Judge (concurring).

Author: Kalodner

Opinion OF THE COURT

KALODNER, Circuit Judge.

Is the scope of judicial review of a federal agency's action in dismissing a civil service employee limited to the issue whether "statutory procedural requirements" have been satisfied in the administrative proceedings?

The District Court answered that question in the affirmative in the instant suit by the appellant Charlton against the United States Civil Service Commission*fn1 which seeks review of its action sustaining his dismissal from his employment as an investigator in the Internal Revenue Service.

It did so in dismissing Charlton's Amended Complaint on its finding that review of the administrative record disclosed that "there has been substantial compliance with all the applicable procedural and statutory requirements", and its determination that for that reason "We cannot inquire further into the matter."

In spelling out in its Opinion*fn2 its view of the scope of judicial review of a federal agency's action, the District Court stated:

"It is quite clear that the scope of review permitted in a case involving disciplinary action against government employees, including discharge, is very limited. The court is only 'to determine whether there has been substantial compliance with applicable procedures and statutes, and not to review the administrative determination as to the wisdom or good judgment of the agency in exercising discretion.' Baum v. Zuckert, 342 F.2d 145, 147 (6 Cir. 1965). See also Hargett v. Summerfield, 100 U.S.App.D.C. 85, 243 F.2d 29 (1957); Hofflund v. Seaton, 105 U.S.App.D.C. 171, 265 F.2d 363 (1959), cert. den. 361 U.S. 837, 80 S. Ct. 55, 4 L. Ed. 2d 77 (1959); McTiernan v. Gronouski, 337 F.2d 31 (2 Cir. 1964).

"The Court would not be warranted in substituting its own judgment for that of plaintiff's superiors, whose action has been sustained by the Civil Service Commission. Studemeyer v. Macy, 116 U.S.App.D.C. 120, 321 F.2d 386 (1963); Eustace v. Day, 114 U.S.App.D.C. 242, 314 F.2d 247 (1962). Thus, where procedural requirements have been complied with, the Court should not inquire into the merits of the employee's dismissal. Indiviglio v. United States, 156 Ct.Cl. 241, 299 F.2d 266 (1962), cert. den. 371 U.S. 913, 83 S. Ct. 260, 9 L. Ed. 2d 173 (1962); Ellis v. Mueller, 108 U.S.App.D.C. 174, 280 F.2d 722 (1960), cert. den. 364 U.S. 883, 81 S. Ct. 172, 5 L. Ed. 2d 104 (1960); Green v. Baughman, 100 U.S.App.D.C. 187, 243 F.2d 610 (1957), cert. den. 355 U.S. 819, 78 S. Ct. 25, 2 L. Ed. 2d 35 (1957); Boylan v. Quarles, 98 U.S.App.D.C. 337, 235 F.2d 834 (1956)." (Emphasis supplied.)

We are of the opinion that the standard of the scope of judicial review of a federal agency's action stated and applied by the District Court is erroneous and that its failure to "inquire further into the matter", after finding that procedural requirements had been satisfied in the administrative proceedings, compels reversal of its dismissal of plaintiff's Complaint.

The instant action was pursuant to the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act now 5 U.S.C.A. ยง 702.*fn3

Section 706 spells out the scope of judicial review of a federal agency's action in clear and precise terms and it is controlling and dispositive. It supersedes and makes irrelevant judicially fashioned concepts of the scope of judicial review of a federal agency's action, declared both prior and subsequent to its enactment.

Section 706 is mandatory by its terms and not merely declarative of "guidelines" with respect to the scope of judicial review of a federal agency's action. It imposes on a federal court, inter alia, the mandatory duty to "review the whole record [of the administrative proceedings] or those parts of it cited by a party", and to determine therefrom whether the agency's action was in accordance with procedures required by law and supported by "substantial evidence", or alternatively, capricious, arbitrary, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.

In full sweep Section 706 provides:

"Scope of review

"To the extent necessary to decision and when presented, the reviewing court shall decide all relevant questions of law, interpret constitutional and statutory provisions, and determine the meaning or applicability of the terms of an agency action. The reviewing court shall --

(1) compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed; and

(2) hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be --

(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law;

(B) contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity;

(C) in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations or short of statutory right;

(D) without observance of procedure required by law;

(E) unsupported by substantial evidence in a case subject to sections 556 and 557 of this title or otherwise reviewed on the record of an agency hearing provided by statute; or

(F) unwarranted by the facts to the extent that the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court.

"In making the foregoing determinations, the court shall review the whole record or those parts of it cited by a party, and due account shall be taken of the rule of prejudicial error. Pub.L. 89-554, Sept. 6, 1966, 80 Stat. 393." (Emphasis supplied.)

The District Court here failed to discharge its statutory duty to review the administrative record and to determine whether the Commission's action was supported by substantial evidence, or ...


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