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USDA Files Motion To Dismiss in AHPA Suit

Posted February 15, 2001
On Feb. 7, 2001, the Department of Justice filed a “Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment” on behalf of the USDA. The motion was filed in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Horse Protection Association to stop the USDA from implementing the 2001-2003 operating plan. The AHPA suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 2001. It alleges that the Secretary of Agriculture cannot delegate enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to a horse industry organization or to any outside party. On Jan.10 AHPA filed a request for a restraining order to prohibit the USDA from implementing the new operating plan until the lawsuit is settled. The request was denied.

The USDA’s motion to dismiss asserts that “Congress specifically provided for participation by the show managers in enforcing the provisions of the [Horse Protection] Act. Consequently, the issue in this case is not whether USDA has discretion ... to delegate enforcement authority ..., but rather whether USDA’s determination of how to enforce the statute ... is subject to judicial review ...” The USDA states that review of the 2001-2003 operating plan is governed by a two-step analysis set forth in previous cases: step 1) whether or not Congress spoke directly to the question at issue (in this case, whether or not the USDA could delegate enforcement authority); and step 2) if Congress did not directly address the specific issue, then the Court “must defer to the agency’s (in this case, the USDA’s) interpretation so long as it is reasonable, consistent with the statutory purpose, and not in conflict with the statute’s plain language.” (OSG Bulk Ships, Inc. v. United States) The USDA holds that Congress did directly address the issue, as stated above, and that the case should be dismissed.

The brief points out that it is impossible for its veterinary medical officers to attend more than a small percentage of horse shows each season. Therefore, if enforcement were left entirely to the USDA, the number of HPA violations detected and punished would decrease significantly, which would be the opposite of the law’s intent.

The USDA also argues that the AHPA does not have standing to bring the suit. Standing is the right to initiate a legal action. According to the motion, “an organization may have standing to sue either 1) on its own behalf, or 2) on behalf of its members asserting their individual rights.” To establish standing, an organization has to prove that it or its members have suffered, or will soon suffer, an injury that is a result of the defendant’s actions. The injury cannot be “conjectural or hypothetical.” USDA points out that in National Taxpayers’ Union v. United States, the court stated that the claim of the taxpayers’ union that the U.S. had “frustrated” its organization’s goals was insufficient to grant standing. In short, if the AHPA believes that implementation of the operating plan would conflict with their goal of horse protection, that belief alone is insufficient for the court to grant standing.

The deadline for the AHPA to file its response to the brief is Feb. 21, 2001.

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