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Law School Case Brief

City of Arlington v. FCC - 569 U.S. 290, 133 S. Ct. 1863 (2013)


When a court reviews an agency’s construction of a statute the agency administers, it is confronted with two questions. First, applying the ordinary tools of statutory construction, the court must determine whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. But if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.


Petitioner cities filed actions against respondent Federal Communications Commission ("FCC"), seeking judicial review of a ruling the FCC issued which established time frames state and local governments were supposed to meet when they received applications to place, construct, or modify personal wireless service facilities. The statute required state and local governments to act on any request to place, construct, or modify personal wireless service facilities "within a reasonable period of time," and the FCC issued a ruling that a “reasonable period of time” was presumptively (but rebuttably) 90 days to process a collocation application and 150 days to process all other applications.  The court of appeals upheld. The supreme court granted certiorari.


Does the Telecommunications Act of 1996 supplant the agency’s interpretation of a statutory ambiguity?




The Supreme Court affirmed circuit court’s decision. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 supplanted state authority over the issue in question, so the question was simply whether a federal agency or federal courts would draw the lines to which the states had to hew.

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