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By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi

On February 6, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) issued an order granting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s (collectively EPA or Respondents) September 24, 2018, petition for an en banc rehearing concerning the Ninth Circuit’s August 9, 2018, decision that vacated an EPA order maintaining chlorpyrifos registrations and remanded the case to EPA with directions to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days. 

The Ninth Circuit’s order granting the Respondent’s petition that the case be re-heard en banc does not provide an explanation for its decision.  The Ninth Circuit evidently found the arguments offered by Respondents and other interested parties that filed amicus curiae briefs more persuasive than Petitioners’ brief (including the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)), who argued against submission of certain amicus curiae briefs and also that, with limited exception, Respondent’s petition for rehearing lacked merit and should be denied. 

The en banc oral argument will be held March 26, 2019, at 2:30 p.m. (PST).

Arguments for Rehearing

Prior to the February 6, 2019, order, on October 15, 2018, three amicus curiae briefs were filed in support of EPA’s petition by CropLife America (CLA), Agribusiness Council of Indiana (Agribusiness), and Dow Agrosciences LLC (DAS).  Despite Petitioners’ objection to the motions of Agribusiness and CLA for leave to file amicus curiae briefs in support of Respondent’s petition for rehearing, on November 13, 2018, the Ninth Circuit granted the motions for leave to file amicus curiae briefs.

EPA’s petition for rehearing made multiple arguments as to why an en banc and panel rehearing should be granted, including the Panel’s lack of jurisdiction, the Panel’s order conflicting with applicable Supreme Court precedent, and specific modifications to be addressed to the order to comply with Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requirements.  More information regarding EPA’s petition is available in our blog item “EPA Petitions for En Banc and Panel Rehearing in Ninth Circuit Chlorpyrifos Case.”

The amicus curiae briefs supported EPA’s arguments and also made arguments supporting rehearing in addition to those previously set forth by EPA.  CLA’s brief focused on the fact that the Panel’s decision disregarded FIFRA’s cancellation process, stating: “if EPA ultimately were to determine that any chlorpyrifos registration would need to be cancelled, such an action could not be accomplished in the way the panel majority prescribed:  by circumventing the procedures Congress required to ensure that pesticide cancellation decisions are not made unless and until these harms and the best science available are properly vetted.”  DAS’ brief addressed in detail the Panel’s violation of administrative law in dictating how EPA must act (i.e., cancel the chlorpyrifos registrations) and the potential violation of FIFRA by EPA if forced to comply with the Panel’s order regarding the timing for cancelling such registrations.  The amicus curiae briefs also sought to provide information on the practical consequences that chlorpyrifos registrants and users would face if the panel opinion is not revised.  For example, DAS discussed its proprietary interest in protecting its registrations and defending its product, while Agribusiness in its brief provided some background on the use and benefits of chlorpyrifos, the lack of viable alternatives, and the ramifications of the order on insect pest resistance and the ability to combat new invasive pests. 

Petitioners’ response to the petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc argued that there was no basis for rehearing.  Petitioners noted that en banc review is “disfavored” and appropriate in limited “extraordinary circumstances” and in the face of “an irreconcilable conflict between the holdings of controlling prior decisions of this court.”  Petitioners argued that the Panel decision was in accord with precedent and that a request for rehearing “would only result in further delay.”  Petitioners did concede on two points:  (1) modifying the order to direct EPA to cancel the registrations under the FIFRA cancellation process, which necessitates more time than the 60 days set forth in the order; and (2) clarifying that the order is limited to cancelling registrations that can result in residues on food. 

EPA, chlorpyrifos registrants and users, and industry generally should be encouraged by the decision to grant an en banc rehearing in this case, but the outcome is far from certain.  Given the issues at stake, registrants should monitor this hearing closely.


 

By Timothy D. Backstrom and Lisa M. Campbell 

On September 24, 2018, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit), respondents U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler (collectively EPA) petitioned for an en banc and panel rehearing concerning the Ninth Circuit’s August 9, 2018, decision that granted judicial review of EPA’s initial order denying an administrative petition by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos, and that specifically directed EPA to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days.  More information regarding the August 9 decision is available in our blog item “Ninth Circuit Directs EPA to Revoke all Tolerances and Cancel All Registrations for Chlorpyrifos.”

EPA’s petition for rehearing sets forth three discrete procedural arguments as to why rehearing should be granted.  The first argument is that the panel erred because “an initial decision denying an administrative petition under 21 U.S.C. § 346a(d)(4)(A)(iii) is simply not within the jurisdiction of this Court to review ….”  EPA contends that the decision to grant judicial review of the initial EPA order, without waiting for EPA to respond to objections or to issue a final order, conflicts with the applicable precedent in both the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Second Circuit).

EPA’s second argument is that, even if the initial EPA order is deemed to be reviewable, the panel’s decision directing EPA to take specific actions on remand “exceeded the remedial authority granted the courts by Congress” and conflicts with applicable Supreme Court precedent.  EPA identifies some other actions that EPA could hypothetically have decided to take on remand, including denying the administrative petition based on a finding that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) safety standard is met, reducing the affected tolerances, or revoking only certain tolerances.  EPA argues that the court was not empowered to direct EPA to take specific actions, but should have instead remanded the matter to EPA “for further consideration in light of the panel’s holding that EPA may not ‘decline to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances [without] mak[ing] a finding of reasonable certainty that the tolerances were safe.’”

EPA’s third argument is that, in the event a broader rehearing is not granted, a rehearing by the panel should nonetheless be convened to modify the relief ordered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  EPA argues that revocation of the chlorpyrifos tolerances would not lead automatically to cancellation of all chlorpyrifos registrations, because there are also some non-food uses for chlorpyrifos.  EPA states that “FIFRA incorporates the safety standard of the FFDCA only with respect to food-use pesticides …” (emphasis in original).  EPA also notes that EPA lacks authority to comply with the court’s order to cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations within 60 days, because EPA must follow the statutory procedure for cancellation under FIFRA Section 6(b), which requires EPA to forward a proposed cancellation first to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), and to afford the affected registrants and other adversely affected persons an opportunity to request an adjudicatory hearing to contest the proposed cancellation.  EPA states that the panel should provide at least a limited rehearing, because it granted relief without the benefit of any prior briefing on remedy in which these significant problems would have been identified.

Commentary

Although parties to appellate litigation often seek rehearing or rehearing en banc, federal agencies represented by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are considerably more selective about the circumstances in which they will file a petition for rehearing.  There are some compelling arguments supported by precedent that judicial review is not available under the FFDCA for the type of initial order concerning which the petitioners in this case sought review.  Moreover, EPA has identified some practical factors which make it literally impossible for EPA both to adhere to mandatory statutory procedures under FIFRA and to comply with the terms of the court’s order.  For this reason, even if a broader rehearing is not granted concerning the jurisdictional question or the authority of the court to order EPA to take specific actions, a narrower rehearing before the appellate panel may be ordered, which would allow the parties an opportunity for further briefing on remedy and permit the court to modify its order.

More information on chlorpyrifos issues, including further proceedings in this case, is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.