Air Transport Association of America, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA __________________________________ ) AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION ) OF AMERICA, INC. d/b/a ) AIRLINES FOR AMERICA, et al., ) ) Plaintiffs, ) ) v. ) ) Civil Action No. 16-919 (RMC) UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT ) OF AGRICULTURE, et al., ) ) Defendants. ) _________________________________ ) OPINION The Agriculture Quarantine Inspection program is an essential part of the nation’s efforts to secure its plants and animals from pests and diseases that are not native to the territory of the United States. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency within the Department of Agriculture, works with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to inspect all persons and vessels entering the United States. In 1990, Congress ordered APHIS to charge its costs for the required inspections to the applicable classes of users; since then, APHIS has proposed various rules concerning fees for different user classes. In 2015, APHIS adopted a rule which set a new fee structure. Under that rule, international airline passengers are charged a Passenger Fee of $3.96 (reduced from $5) and international commercial aircraft are charged a Commercial Aircraft Fee of $225 (increased from $70.75). The Air Transport Association of America, Inc. and the International Air Transport Association (collectively, Plaintiffs) challenge the validity of the rule. They argue that it is inconsistent with the governing statutory provisions and violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 500 et seq. (2012). 1 Having studied the parties’ briefs, oral arguments, and the entire record, the Court finds that (1) Plaintiffs’ claims are not time-barred; (2) APHIS’s actions were consistent with the governing statute in charging both an air passenger fee and commercial aircraft fee to passenger aircraft; (3) APHIS has not unlawfully engaged in cross-subsidization; (4) APHIS and Grant Thornton, LLP reasonably relied on the fiscal year (FY) 2010 and 2011 data; and (5) Plaintiffs were not harmed by the withholding of some data during the notice and comment period. The Court also finds that after FY02, the governing statute no longer permitted APHIS to set fees in order to maintain a reasonable balance, which APHIS used to fund its reserve account. Thus, the Court will deny Defendants’ motion to dismiss, grant summary judgment to Defendants on Counts I, II, and IV, and grant summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on Count III and remand this part of the rulemaking for further consideration and possible rulemaking by APHIS. I. BACKGROUND APHIS has been inspecting “persons and vessels entering the customs territory of the United States for possible infection or infestation with pests and diseases that threaten the resident flora and fauna” of the United States for over a century. Defs.’ Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Their Mot. to Dismiss and for Summ. J. and in Opp’n to Pls.’ Mot. for Summ. J. (APHIS Opp’n) [Dkt. 24-1] at 1; see also Plant Protection Act, 7 U.S.C. § 7701 et seq. (2010); ...

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