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The Administrative Procedure Act does not require administrative agencies to follow notice and comment procedures in all situations. 5 U.S.C.S. § 553(b)(3)(A) specifically excludes interpretive rules, general statements of policy, or rules of agency organization, procedure, or practice, from the notice and comment procedures.
In response to a query from a state school district, defendant United States Department of Education issued a letter stating that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA-B), 20 U.S.C.S. §§ 1411-20, school districts were required to provide educational services for eligible students who had been removed from the classroom for discipline reasons. Plaintiff school district, Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, Marion County, Indiana, challenged the rule on the ground that defendant had not followed the formal rulemaking dictates of the Administrative Procedure Act. Defendant United States Department of Education appealed a district court’s summary judgment entered in plaintiff school district's suit to void defendant's ruling regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C.S. §§ 1411-20. Defendant contended that its rule was interpretative, and not subject to the notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Was the defendant’s rule interpretative and not subject to the notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act?
The court reversed the judgment for plaintiff school district and ordered judgment entered for defendant. The court held that defendant's letter ruling that plaintiff had a duty to provide educational services to disabled students it expelled from the classroom for disciplinary reasons was interpretive and not subject to notice and comment. In reversing the judgment for plaintiff and entering judgment for defendant, the court held that defendant's rule was paradigmatically interpretive, not legislative, and thus was exempt from the formal notice and comment process under 5 U.S.C.S. § 553(b)(3)(A). The court stated that defendant's characterization of the rule was entitled to some deference, and noted that defendant had acted as though it was interpreting the IDEA-B, not legislating. The court explained that neither the fact that the rule imposed substantive burdens on plaintiff nor that defendant's announcement was entirely novel necessarily qualified it as legislative.