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By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

On December 20, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an order in LULAC v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-71636, a case challenging an order denying administrative petitions to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos.  The court’s order includes actions concerning two pending motions.  The court has denied a motion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Administrator Pruitt (Respondents) to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction while granting a motion by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), et al. (Petitioners) to expedite briefing and hearing in the case.  More information on these two motions is available in our blog item “NGOs and Farmworkers File Motion for Expedited Briefing and Hearing in Chlorpyrifos Litigation.”

In support of their August 21, 2017, motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, Respondents argued that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires the Petitioners to exhaust their administrative remedies by submitting formal objections to the order denying their request to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos and then waiting for EPA to issue a final order before they may seek judicial review.  The Petitioners argued in response that requiring exhaustion in this instance would be “futile,” and that the court should also consider reviewing the EPA order under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), because EPA has declined to cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos.  In response, Respondents argued that Petitioners have not shown that requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies would be futile, and that 21 U.S.C. § 346a(h)(5) explicitly prohibits judicial review of any order concerning pesticide tolerances under any other statute, including FIFRA.

After the motion to dismiss was fully briefed, the court summarily denied it, but also characterized that denial as “without prejudice to renewing the arguments in the answering brief.”  The court also denied a motion by the Petitioners for oral argument concerning the pending motion to dismiss.  These two actions indicate that the court has decided to defer argument and resolution of the jurisdictional issues presented by the motion to dismiss until briefing and argument on the merits.

The court also granted an October 13, 2017, motion by the Petitioners to expedite briefing and hearing in the case.  Petitioners submitted this motion to expedite because they contend that the refusal of EPA to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos is causing ongoing harm even though EPA “did not and cannot determine that chlorpyrifos is safe under the Food Quality Protection Act.”  The court set the following expedited briefing schedule:  Petitioners’ opening brief is due January 23, 2018; Intervenors’ brief(s) are due February 6, 2018; Respondents’ answering brief is due March 8, 2018; Petitioners’ optional reply brief is due 28 days after service of Respondents’ brief; and Intervenors’ optional reply brief(s) are due 42 days after service of Respondents’ brief.  The court also directed the Clerk to “calendar this case [for argument] as soon as possible upon completion of briefing.”

Commentary

The current actions of the court should be viewed in the context of the prior decision by this same court to issue a writ of mandamus that required EPA to take action on pending petitions to cancel the registrations and revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos after what Petitioners claimed was a quite protracted administrative delay, and the subsequent decision by EPA under Administrator Pruitt to defer final action on chlorpyrifos, after the prior Administration had proposed to take the actions sought by the Petitioners.  By granting the motion to expedite, and also by deferring the ultimate disposition of the jurisdictional issues raised by EPA, the court appears to have given the Petitioners a prompt and full opportunity to explain why judicial intervention at this stage of the administrative process is warranted.  Nevertheless, because the jurisdictional arguments made by EPA are supported by substantial precedent, it could prove difficult for the Petitioners ultimately to overcome these arguments. 

More information on the chlorpyrifos litigation and related matters is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos