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Even if a regulation falls within the scope of the agency's legislative authority, it will nonetheless be invalidated if the agency significantly fails to provide regulatory standards that would inform the public and guide the agency in discharging its authorized function, because a failure of that magnitude raises due process concerns. The deference an appellate court affords to agencies does not require abdication by the judiciary of its function to assure that agency rulemaking conforms with basic tenets of due process, and provides standards to guide both the regulator and the regulated.
The Legislature enacted a new section of an existing statute regulating animal cruelty. Although that statute had essentially left animal welfare and the protection of animals to petitioners New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its related county organizations, a coalition of animal protection organizations, consumers, farmers, and citizens, the Legislature decreed that respondent Department of Agriculture would be vested with certain authority relating to the care and welfare of domestic livestock, commonly referred to as farm animals, and directed that it establish humane standards. The statute required the defendant to consult with the Rutgers-affiliated agricultural experiment station in developing and promulgating the regulations and established a presumption that compliance with those regulations would satisfy the other statutory standards defining animal cruelty. Although vesting the respondent with this rulemaking function, the Legislature left the preexisting enforcement mechanisms, which have long relied on the petitioners, largely undisturbed. Petitioners asserted the regulations created an impermissibly broad and vague category of permitted practices by referring to routine husbandry practices as generally acceptable and embraced a variety of specific practices that were either objectively inhumane or supported by inadequate scientific evidence as to their usefulness. Petitioners were granted certification to challenge the judgment of the superior court which rejected each of petitioners' challenges and sustained all of the challenged regulations of respondent with regard to standards governing the raising, keeping, and marketing of domestic livestock.
Did the respondent fail to comply with the mandate of the Legislature to create humane standards in promulgating its regulations relating to the care of domestic livestock?
The court rejected petitioners' facial challenge but did find, however, that respondent failed to carry out its mandate, in part. Particularly, the court sustained petitioners' challenges to the reliance on routine husbandry practices as defined in the regulations and as to the vague standard setting forth a reliance on a knowledgeable individual to minimize pain when a certain practice was used were arbitrary and capricious and, therefore, those provisions were struck. The specific challenges to the various practices, with the exception of the practice of tail docking, were otherwise rejected. The court remanded the case to respondent Department for further proceedings.