In Bennett v. Spear, the United States Supreme Court distilled from its precedents two conditions that generally must be satisfied for agency action to be “final” under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C.S. § 500 et seq. First, the action must mark the consummation of the agency’s decision-making process—it must not be of a merely tentative or interlocutory nature. And second, the action must be one by which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.
Hawkes Co., Inc. and two other companies engaged in mining peat sought a permit from Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to discharge material onto wetlands located on property that respondents owned and hoped to mine. In connection with the permitting process, respondents obtained an approved “jurisdictional determination” (JD) from the Corps stating that the property contained waters of the United States because its wetlands had a significant nexus to the Red River of the North, located some 120 miles away. After exhausting administrative remedies, respondents sought review of the approved JD in Federal District Court under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), but the District Court dismissed for want of jurisdiction, holding that the revised JD was not a final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy in a court. The Eighth Circuit reversed.
Was the revised jurisdictional determination (JD) a final agency action, thereby rendering it reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)?
The Court held that the Corps' approved JD is a final agency action judicially reviewable under the APA. According to the Court, two conditions must be satisfied for an agency action to be final under the APA, as held under Bennett v. Spear: first, the action must mark the consummation of the agency's decision-making process and second, the action must be one by which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow. The Court determined that an approved JD satisfies the first condition in the sense that an approved JD is issued after an extensive fact-finding by the Corps regarding the physical and hydrological characteristics of the property, thus, it marks the consummation of the Corps’ decision-making on the question whether a particular property does or does not contain waters of the United States. The Court further posited that the definitive nature of approved JDs also gives rise to direct and appreciable legal consequences, thereby satisfying the second condition as well. The Court averred that a negative or a positive JD create its respective legal consequences.