PETA v. USDA
PUBLISHED AUTHORED OPINION filed. Originating case number: 5:15-cv-00429-D. . [16-2029]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS,
Plaintiff - Appellant,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; SONNY PERDUE, in
his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture,
Defendants - Appellees.
-------------------------------------THE FUND FOR ANIMALS; THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED
STATES; DELCIANNA J. WINDERS, Academic Fellow, Animal Law & Policy
Program, Harvard Law School,
Amici Supporting Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at
Raleigh. James C. Dever III, Chief District Judge. (5:15-cv-00429-D)
Argued: May 10, 2017
Decided: June 28, 2017
Before WILKINSON, KEENAN, and THACKER, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Thacker wrote the opinion, in which Judge
Wilkinson and Judge Keenan joined.
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ARGUED: Katherine Anne Meyer, MEYER GLITZENSTEIN & EUBANKS, LLP,
Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Matthew Fesak, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Jonathan D. Sasser,
ELLIS & WINTERS LLP, Raleigh, North Carolina; Jenni R. James, PETA
FOUNDATION, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. John Stuart Bruce, United States
Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina,
for Appellees. Anna Frostic, Laura Friend, Laura Fox, Kim Ockene, THE HUMANE
SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES, Washington, D.C., for Amici The Humane
Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals. John Vail, JOHN VAIL LAW
PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Delcianna J. Winders.
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THACKER, Circuit Judge:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”) challenges the license
renewal process for animal exhibitors promulgated by the United States Department of
Agriculture (“USDA”), through which the USDA may renew such license despite a
licensee’s noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA” or “the Act”). PETA
argues that such renewal process undermines a key purpose of the Act, that is, ensuring
the humane treatment of animals. The district court granted the USDA’s Rule 12(c)
motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the USDA’s interpretation was
owed deference under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.,
467 U.S. 837 (1984). Because the AWA does not directly address license renewal but
does expressly authorize the USDA to promulgate and implement its own renewal
standards, we affirm.
PETA sued the USDA and Tom Vilsack 1 in his official capacity as Secretary of
the USDA under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). PETA alleges that the
USDA has a “policy, pattern, and practice of rubber-stamping . . . license renewal
applications” of applicants that the USDA cites for violating the AWA, some only days
Tom Vilsack resigned in January 2017 as Secretary of the USDA. Sonny Perdue
is the current Secretary of the USDA. The Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture,
who falls within the USDA, to administer the Act. See 7 U.S.C. §§ 2132(b), 2151. For
ease of reference, cites to “USDA” herein will encompass both the USDA and the
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before renewing their licenses. J.A. 5. 2 Specifically, PETA highlights certain entities
and individuals (collectively, “Exhibitors”) 3 that obtained license renewals despite
violating the AWA. 4
As part of its mission to protect animals from “abuse, neglect, and cruelty,” PETA
asserts that it has spent resources (1) sending its members to document animal conditions
at Exhibitors’ facilities; (2) submitting violation reports to the USDA; and (3)
disseminating information about the violations through its website, publications, and
other media. J.A. 9. PETA further asserts that by renewing Exhibitors’ licenses despite
their alleged repeated violations, the USDA “causes PETA to spend additional resources
monitoring, documenting, and addressing the unlawful licensing decision and the
Citations to the “J.A.” refer to the Joint Appendix filed by the parties in this
The Exhibitors are Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary, the Mobile Zoo, Tri-State
Zoological Park, Henry Hampton, and Michael Todd. See Appellant’s Br. 25; see also
J.A. 6, 17–37.
The descriptions of past violations by other entities -- though not the Exhibitors
here -- are particularly disturbing. For example, a USDA-licensed puppy mill was cited
for “having a dog with no teeth, his or her jaw bone partially missing with the bone
exposed,” and more disturbingly, having “seven dead puppies scattered on the ground at
the facility.” Brief for The Humane Society of the United States as Amici Curiae
Supporting Appellant at 7. Even worse, a dog kennel passed inspection from May 2007
to the present despite having over 100 hundred pages of violations, including “emaciated
dogs whose ribs, vertebrae and hip bones were protruding; dogs with wounds and lesions
(some of which were red and oozing), dental disease, eye infections (some so severe that
the dogs’ eyes were matted shut with discharge), and injured limbs; and dogs and puppies
living in 100-degree temperatures who exhibited clear signs of heat stress, including total
non-responsiveness.” Id. at 8. In fact, at this same kennel, some of the dogs were so ill
that they had to be euthanized. See id. at 9.
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inhumane conditions at the applicants’ facilities.”
As a result, PETA seeks
(1) a declaratory judgment that the USDA’s renewal policy -- both facially and as applied
to Exhibitors -- violates the APA; (2) a permanent injunction enjoining the USDA from
implementing their renewal process; (3) nullification of the Exhibitors’ license renewals;
and (4) reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. See id. at 40.
The district court granted the USDA’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. See
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. United States Dep’t of Agric., 194 F.
Supp. 3d 404, 407 (E.D.N.C. 2016). In doing so, the district court first determined that
the AWA only addressed license issuance, not license renewal, which is at issue here.
See id. at 413. The district court next concluded that the USDA’s renewal process was
based on a permissible construction of the AWA because the AWA itself authorized the
USDA to regulate licensing, including renewal.
See id. at 414–15.
We review de novo the district court’s ruling on a motion for judgment on the
pleadings under Rule 12(c), see Butler v. United States, 702 F.3d 749, 751–52 (4th Cir.
2012), applying the standard for a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) -- that is, such a motion
should “only be granted if, after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff’s
complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the
plaintiff’s favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in
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support of his claim entitling him to relief,” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231,
244 (4th Cir. 1999).
This case tasks us with examining an “agency’s construction of the statute which it
Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842.
As a result, we implement the familiar
framework established under Chevron. See City of Arlington v. F.C.C., 133 S. Ct. 1863,
1868 (2013); Am. Online, Inc. v. AT & T Corp., 243 F.3d 812, 817 (4th Cir. 2001). At its
core, that framework operates as a tool of statutory construction whereby we give plain
and unambiguous statutes their full effect; but, where a statute is either silent or
ambiguous, we afford deference “to the reasonable judgments of agencies with regard to
the meaning of ambiguous terms [or silence] in statutes that they are charged with
administering.” Smiley v. Citibank (South Dakota), N.A., 517 U.S. 735, 739 (1996).
Chevron deference provides that “any ensuing regulation” related to the ambiguity or
silence “is binding in the courts unless procedurally defective, arbitrary or capricious in
substance, or manifestly contrary to the statute.” United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S.
218, 227 (2001). This deference is rooted in the widely understood notions that the
“well-reasoned views of the agencies implementing a statute constitute a body of
experience and informed judgment to which courts and litigants may properly resort for
guidance,” Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624, 642 (1998) (internal quotation marks
omitted), as well as the fact that “Congress knows to speak in plain terms when it wishes
to circumscribe, and in capacious terms when it wishes to enlarge, agency discretion.”
City of Arlington, 133 S. Ct. at 1868.
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Nonetheless, Chevron deference is not a given. Indeed, an agency must meet
certain threshold procedural requirements before courts may address Chevron deference,
particularly notice-and-comment rulemaking. See Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro,
136 S. Ct. 2117, 2124–2126 (2016) (“When Congress authorizes an agency to proceed
through notice-and-comment rulemaking, that relatively formal administrative procedure
is a very good indicator that Congress intended the regulation to carry the force of law, so
Chevron should apply . . . . But Chevron deference is not warranted where . . . the agency
errs by failing to follow the correct procedures in issuing the regulation” (internal
quotation marks omitted)). If such procedural requirements are met, then we engage in a
two part inquiry to determine whether Chevron deference applies.
First, we must
ascertain whether Congress has “directly spoken to the precise question at issue”; if
Congress has done so, that ends the inquiry. Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842; see Am. Online,
Inc., 243 F.3d at 817. In assessing whether Congress has spoken to the issue, “we focus
purely on statutory construction without according any weight to the agency’s position,”
relying on the plain language of the statute as the “most reliable indicator of
Congressional intent.” Sijapti v. Boente, 848 F.3d 210, 215 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). But, if Congress has not addressed the question,
we must then determine “whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible
construction of the statute,” id. at 843, that is, whether (1) the agency promulgated its
interpretation via notice-and-comment rulemaking or formal adjudication, see
Christensen v. Harris Cty., 529 U.S. 576, 587 (2000); and (2) its “interpretation is
reasonable,” Piney Run Pres. Ass’n v. Cty. Comm’rs, 268 F.3d 255, 267 (4th Cir. 2001).
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To say, as PETA asserts, that the USDA did not promulgate its interpretation via
notice-and-comment, and more generally, did not adequately consider the issue of
renewals is belied by the record. Indeed, the record here demonstrates that the USDA
consistently engaged in notice-and-comment rulemaking with regard to issuing and
For example, in 1995, the USDA engaged in notice-and-comment rulemaking
regarding its license renewal process, and one commenter specifically questioned the
renewal application’s certification of compliance, suggesting that simply certifying
compliance “would be ineffective” in ensuring actual compliance by a licensee. Animal
Welfare, Licensing and Records, 60 Fed. Reg. 13,893, 13,894 (Mar. 15, 1995). The
USDA responded that though licensees certify their compliance during renewal, the
certification does not “take the place of inspections” by the USDA. Id. And during this
same notice-and-comment period, the USDA received additional comments related to
altering its renewal process. The USDA considered and responded to each comment.
See id. at 13,893–13,894.
More recently, in 2000, the USDA began a notice-and-comment period that
culminated in a final ruling in 2004. Toward that end, “[the USDA] published in the
Federal Register . . . a proposal to amend the regulations by revising and clarifying . . .
the procedures for applying for licenses and renewals.” Animal Welfare, Inspection,
Licensing, and Procurement of Animals, 69 Fed. Reg. 42,089, 42,089 (July 14, 2004).
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The USDA “solicited comments concerning [its] proposal for 60 days ending on October
3, 2000,” and at “the request of several commenters,  extended the comment period to
November 20, 2000,” and ultimately received 395 comments. Id. During the notice-andcomment period, a commenter questioned the renewal process, suggesting that the USDA
should deny renewal unless the subject licensee “was inspected and found compliant just
prior to the renewal date.” See id. at 42,094. The USDA responded to the comment in its
2004 final ruling, stating that it enforces the AWA through “random, unannounced
inspections to determine compliance,” and that after inspections, “all licensees are given
an appropriate amount of time to correct any problems and become compliant.” Id.
Based on its enforcement methods and the nature of citations, the USDA concluded, “[i]t
is unrealistic and counterproductive to make license renewal contingent on [the applicant]
having [no] citations.” Id. The USDA thus declined to alter its renewal process. See id.
Nonetheless, PETA urges us to discount the USDA’s response in its 2004 final
ruling, arguing that the response was posted in a final ruling, and so provided an
insufficient opportunity for public comment. But this position ignores the full scope of
the notice-and-comment proceedings. The 2004 final ruling was based on a notice-andcomment period spanning four years, beginning in 2000. As indicated in the 2004 final
ruling, the USDA accepted a wide array of comments, some related to the proposed
changes and others unrelated. In fact, the USDA specifically considered the alternative
renewal process for which PETA argues today -- that renewal should be denied unless a
licensee passes inspection at the time of renewal -- but determined that the proposed
change would be “unrealistic and counterproductive” to its enforcement efforts. Animal
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Welfare, Inspection, Licensing, and Procurement of Animals, 69 Fed. Reg. 42,089,
42,089 (July 14, 2004).
Chevron: Step One
Because the USDA has properly engaged in notice-and-comment rulemaking, we
turn to the first step of Chevron, which requires us to determine if Congress has spoken to
the issue of whether the USDA may renew a license even though the licensee has
violated the Act or the USDA’s regulations.
Congress passed the AWA in 1966 to regulate the research, exhibition, and sale of
animals, as well as to assure their humane treatment. See 7 U.S.C. § 2131. The USDA is
authorized to promulgate rules and regulations as to those matters. See id. § 2151; see
also § 2143(a)(1)–(2). An animal exhibitor must obtain a license from the USDA. See
id. § 2134. Per the AWA, the USDA “shall issue licenses . . . in such form and manner as
[the USDA] may prescribe and upon payment of such fee,” but not until the licensee
demonstrates that “his facilities comply with the standards promulgated” by the USDA.
Id. § 2133. Pursuant to the standards promulgated by the USDA, an initial license
requires applicants to (1) be 18 years of age or older, see 9 C.F.R. § 2.1(a)(1); (2) apply
using a particular form and file it with the appropriate personnel, see id.; (3) pay an
application fee, see id. § 2.6(a); and (4) acknowledge receipt of and agree to comply with
the USDA’s regulations and standards, see id. § 2.2(a). Applicants for initial licenses
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must also be inspected and demonstrate compliance before such license will be issued.
See id. § 2.3(b).
The USDA also has discretion to investigate or inspect a licensee’s facilities as it
“deems necessary” for violations of the AWA or USDA regulations. 7 U.S.C. § 2146(a).
Any interested person may notify the USDA about suspected violations of the AWA as
long as he or she is not a party to “any proceeding which may be instituted” as a result of
that notification. 7 C.F.R. § 1.133(a)(4); see id. § 1.133(a)(1), (3). The USDA has
discretion to investigate those suspected violations. See id. § 1.133(a)(3). If the USDA
believes a licensee has violated the AWA or its regulations, then it may suspend the
license for up to 21 days, and may, after notice and an opportunity to be heard, suspend
the license for a period greater than 21 days or revoke the license.
See 7 U.S.C.
An application to renew a license must be filed within 30 days prior to the license
expiration date. See 9 C.F.R. § 2.7(a). To achieve renewal, an applicant must satisfy
three administrative requirements promulgated by the USDA: (1) file an annual report
indicating the number of exhibited animals the applicant owns or leases, see id. § 2.7(a),
(d); (2) pay an annual license fee, see id. § 2.1(d)(1); and (3) certify “by signing the
application form that, to the best of the [applicants’] knowledge and belief, [they are] in
compliance with the regulations and agree to continue” to so comply, id. § 2.2(b). Of
note, proof of actual compliance is not necessary for license renewal. See id.
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PETA argues that the USDA’s interpretation of the AWA to renew licenses
despite outstanding violations of the Act at the time of renewal should not receive
Chevron deference because the term “issue,” as used in § 2133, encompasses both license
issuance and renewal; therefore, Congress has directly addressed whether the USDA may
renew a license despite recent violations. If PETA’s position is correct, then licensees
would have to demonstrate that their facilities “comply with the standards promulgated”
by the USDA not only at the time a license is issued, but also at the time of renewal. 7
U.S.C. § 2133. Thus, PETA argues that because Congress has directly spoken to the
issue of renewal, our inquiry should end, and we should conclude that the USDA’s
renewal of Exhibitors’ licenses despite their alleged noncompliance violates § 2133.
PETA’s argument cuts against principles of statutory construction. To begin, as a
basic principle, we look to the statutory text, and absent a different definition, we
interpret statutory terms “in accordance with their ordinary meaning.” Sebelius v. Cloer,
133 S. Ct. 1886, 1893 (2013). Here, the word “renew” does not appear in the AWA but
the word “issue” does, though it is undefined. But the plain meaning of each of these
terms leads to the conclusion that the term “issue” does not encompass “renew” as used
in the AWA. See Animal Legal Def. Fund v. United States Dep’t of Agric., 789 F.3d
1206, 1216 (11th Cir. 2015) (using Webster’s Dictionary while examining the AWA to
find that “issue” is defined as “to come out, go out” and renew is defined as “to make
new again, to restore fullness or sufficiency” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
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PETA also looks to the USDA regulatory actions, particularly those promulgated
in 1989, to argue that we need not proceed to step two of Chevron. In particular, PETA
contends that the USDA at one point supported PETA’s argument that the term “issue”
applies to both license issuance and renewal. Before 1989, 9 C.F.R. § 2.3(a) stated,
“Each applicant must demonstrate that his or her premises . . . comply with the
regulations and standards set forth in parts 2 and 3 of this subchapter before a license will
be issued” (emphasis supplied). In a proposed rule filing, the USDA stated that it
planned to revise § 2.3(a) by removing the words “‘before a license will be issued’ from
the requirement because it applies to both initial licenses and license renewals.” Animal
Welfare, 54 Fed. Reg. 10835, 10840 (Mar. 15, 1989). PETA latches onto this language
to argue that Congress intended 7 U.S.C. § 2133 of the AWA to apply to both issuance
PETA overstates the significance of this point. Critically, the relevant language of
7 U.S.C. § 2133 of the AWA has remained the same since 1966. See Pub. L. No. 89-544,
§ 3, 80 Stat. 350, 351 (1966) (containing the same text without mention of renewal). And
nothing in the regulatory activity cited by PETA limits or modifies the broad discretion
granted to the USDA in implementing the AWA, thus reinforcing an apparent intent to
authorize the USDA to develop appropriate licensing procedures as it sees fit.
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Chevron: Step Two
Given the plain language of the AWA, it is clear that it does not specifically
address the renewal question at issue here. The Act is not only silent as to renewal, but is
also ambiguous as to whether the term “issue” refers to license issuance and renewal. As
a result, we move to step two of the Chevron analysis -- whether the USDA’s
interpretation of the renewal process is a permissible one.
A permissible interpretation is one that an agency has promulgated through noticeand-comment rulemaking or formal adjudication, and is one that is reasonable. See
Christensen v. Harris Cty., 529 U.S. 576, 587 (2000); Piney Run Pres. Ass’n v. Cty.
Comm’rs, 268 F.3d 255, 267 (4th Cir. 2001). Whether the USDA’s interpretation here is
reasonable requires us to determine whether the USDA’s “understanding” of the AWA
“is a sufficiently rational one to preclude a court from substituting its judgment” for that
of the agency. Chem. Mfrs. Ass’n. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 470 U.S. 116, 125
(1985). Critically, we are also mindful that “a very good indicator of delegation meriting
Chevron treatment [is] express congressional authorizations to engage in the process of
rulemaking or adjudication that produces regulations or rulings for which deference is
claimed.” United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 229 (2001).
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Having determined that the USDA’s interpretation of the renewal process was
promulgated via notice-and-comment rulemaking, we turn to whether that interpretation
is reasonable. As previously stated, the reasonableness inquiry requires us to determine
whether the USDA’s “understanding” of the AWA “is a sufficiently rational one to
preclude a court from substituting its judgment” for that of the agency. Chem. Mfrs.
Ass’n, 470 U.S. at 125. In this regard, we are mindful that, pursuant to § 2151, Congress
has expressly delegated the authority to interpret the AWA to the USDA. As a result, we
afford the USDA interpretation controlling weight unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or
manifestly contrary to the statute. See Chevron, 467 U.S. at 843–44; see also Mead
Corp., 533 U.S. at 229. Therefore, we examine whether the USDA’s construction of the
AWA is reasonable given the policies that the AWA commits to the care of the USDA.
If they are reasonable, we “should not disturb [the USDA’s interpretation] unless it
appears from the statute or its legislative history that the [interpretation] is not one that
Congress would have sanctioned.” Chevron, 467 U.S. at 845 (quotation marks omitted);
see also Knox Creek Coal Corp. v. Sec’y of Labor, 811 F.3d 148, 158–59 (4th Cir. 2016).
PETA questions the reasonableness of the USDA’s interpretation, contending that
the licensing regime undermines the purpose of the AWA to ensure the humane treatment
of animals. According to PETA, any infraction at the time of renewal should result in
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license denial, if not revocation. PETA’s premise is that renewal must be conditioned
upon full compliance. This argument falls short on two fronts. 5
Enforcement of the Act
First, on the enforcement front, PETA’s proposed interpretation could actually
result in a more inhumane renewal regime. The USDA conducts spot checks of licensees
throughout the year. This encourages year round compliance by licensees. If, however,
the USDA only inspected at the time of renewal, that could motivate licensees to clean up
their act closer to the renewal date while relaxing compliance throughout the rest of the
PETA also argues that we should not defer to this interpretation because the
USDA allegedly took inconsistent positions in prior litigation. PETA relies on two prior
cases: (1) Ray v. Vilsack, No. 5:12-cv-212, 2013 WL 5561255 (E.D.N.C. Oct. 8, 2013);
and (2) Animal Legal Def. Fund, 789 F.3d at 1221. In Ray, while discussing § 2133,
PETA claims that the USDA stated the Act was ambiguous as to “how an applicant for
renewal may demonstrate compliance with the AWA.” Appellant’s Br. 14. PETA
interprets that statement to mean the USDA conceded that § 2133 applies to both
issuance and renewal. See id. at 13. However, that statement by the USDA was made in
a reply brief supporting its motion to dismiss and in the context of discussing whether the
renewal process is subject to judicial review. In Animal Legal Def. Fund, PETA claims
that a USDA official sent a letter about why the USDA renewed an animal exhibitor’s
license despite violations. The letter allegedly stated that the USDA renewed the license
because it found the animal exhibitor was “in compliance with the regulations and
standards, and none of the other criteria for a license denial under [9 C.F.R. §§ ]2.11 or
2.12 are applicable.” Id. at 16. PETA believes the USDA “appeared to acknowledge that
before renewing a license it must determine that the applicant is in compliance with the
regulations and standards.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The point is that
contrary to PETA’s assertion, the USDA has consistently asserted that § 2133 license
issuance requirements do not apply to renewals.
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Further, PETA overlooks the fact that under the current USDA regime, though a
licensee may falsely certify that it is in compliance when applying for renewal, that does
not mean the USDA turns a blind eye to future compliance.
As the USDA
acknowledges, certifying compliance on a renewal application does not act “as an
alternative means of ascertaining compliance or as a substitute for inspections.” Animal
Welfare, Licensing and Records, 60 Fed. Reg. 13893, 13894 (Mar. 15, 1995). The
USDA retains discretion to investigate licensees “as [it] deems necessary,” § 2146(a), and
renewing a license does not foreclose future suspension or revocation for violations. In
fact, the USDA’s own regulations permit termination of a license after notice and an
opportunity for a hearing “during the license renewal process.” 9 C.F.R. § 2.12.
Discretion to the USDA
Whether PETA agrees with the USDA’s renewal process or not, the authority to
implement the renewal process is a policy decision that Congress has delegated to the
Indeed, the AWA is rife with examples of Congress granting the USDA
significant discretion with regard to the issuance of licenses, when and how to determine
whether a violation occurred, and how to reprimand violators.
See, e.g., 7 U.S.C.
§§ 2133 (the USDA issues licenses “in such form and manner as [it] may prescribe”); id.
§ 2146(a) (the USDA “shall make such investigations or inspections as [it] deems
necessary” to determine whether a licensee has violated the AWA); id. § 2149(a) (the
USDA, upon reason to believe a licensee has violated the AWA, “may suspend such
person’s license temporarily” for up to 21 days, and may suspend for longer and
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ultimately revoke a license after providing notice and opportunity for a hearing).
Ultimately, the AWA establishes a discretionary regime under which the USDA
administers the Act with considerable, express authority.
Finally, it is worth noting that this case is almost identical to Animal Legal
Defense Fund v. United States Dep’t of Agriculture, 789 F.3d 1206 (11th Cir. 2015).
Though we are not bound by the law of other circuits, we are aware of the “importance of
maintaining harmony among the Circuits on issues of law” where feasible, Terry v. Tyson
Farms, Inc., 604 F.3d 272, 278 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted),
particularly in cases that could affect long-standing, nationwide regulatory schemes.
In Animal Legal Defense Fund, the appellant, as PETA does here, sought
declaratory and injunctive relief against the USDA for renewing a license even though
the licensee had violated the AWA. See 789 F.3d at 1212. In that case, the district court
granted summary judgment to the USDA, concluding the USDA’s interpretation should
be accorded Chevron deference. See id. at 1212–13. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Under step one of Chevron, the Eleventh Circuit determined that Congress had not
spoken to the issue, relying on a dictionary definition of the terms and the fact that the
term “renew” neither appears nor is defined in the AWA. See id. at 1216. Turning to
step two, the Eleventh Circuit highlighted the fact that Congress expressly delegated
authority to the USDA to interpret § 2133. The court further concluded that the USDA’s
interpretation of the renewal process was reasonable because it soundly balanced the
competing goals of animal welfare and due process for licensees, and that the USDA
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retained the authority, even after renewal, to suspend or a revoke a license. See id. at
Ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit held, the “AWA licensing regulations embody a
reasonable accommodation of the conflicting policy interests Congress has delegated to
the USDA” and “are entitled to Chevron deference.” Id. We agree.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is
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