September 15, 2008
Corps Jurisdictional Determinations are not Final Agency Actions under APA
The 9th Circuit ruled on Friday in Fairbanks North Star Borough v. U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that a final jurisdictional determination by the Army Corps of Engineers that an entire parcel is subject to CWA 404 jurisdiction is not a final agency action reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act. Fairbanks North Star Borough opinion The decision indicates that, even though the Corps does not contemplate additional action regarding jurisdiction, its jurisdictional determinations do not finally fix or deprive the plaintiff of any rights or privileges. That occurs only in the permitting decision that follows the jurisdictional determination.
The Corps had created a regulation establishing a procedure for obtaining final jurisdictional determinations in the 1980s after defending a spat of lawsuits challenging its jurisdictional determinations. On a policy level, the Corps preferred to litigate the question of jurisdiction early.
The 9th Circuit's decision is consistent with the Fourth Circuit's decision in Champion Intl. Paper v. U.S. EPA that EPA assuming jurisdiction to grant a permit under CWA 402(d) is not final agency action, because the agency will be making a permit decision.
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