Center for Auto Safety v. Federal Highway Admin
By: LN on May 02, 2012 09:58:49 AM

Summary:  Appellants challenged the bridge inspection standards amendment carried out by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), on the grounds that the amendments violated the constitution.

Facts:  Title 23 U.S.C. § 151(a) required the Secretary of Transportation to establish national bridge inspection standards to provide for safety and inspection of all highway bridges. Section 151(b)(2), the questioned section in this case provided the standard of maximum time period between inspections. The FHWA amended the bridge inspection standards in two respects. First, to authorize lesser frequent inspections under certain limited circumstances. Secondly, for underwater supports, at least every five years. In justifying the change, the FHWA considered two recent draft studies on deterioration of bridges. But, neither of these studies were entered into the formal record by the agency during the rule making. Unhappy with both the provisions, Appellants petitioned FHWA for reconsideration and it denied the same. Further, the Appellants sought declaratory and injunctive relief in the district court. First, the availability of unbounded exemptions from two-year inspection rule violated 23 U.S.C. 151(b)(2). Secondly, the five-year-rule for underwater inspection were promulgated arbitrarily in violation of 10(e)(2)(A) of the Administrative Procedure Act. The five year rule for underwater inspections codified the interval suggested by American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The district court denied the Appellants motion, upholding the challenged provisions. The Appellants renewed their claims and appealed.

Issue:  Whether the district court was correct in its decision that FHWA had not violated the constitution by amending section 650.305(c)? Whether the district court was correct in its decision that section 650.303(e)(2) as arbitrary?

Holding:  No, the district court had failed to declare section 650.305(c) inconsistent with 23 U.S.C. § 151(b)(2) of the constitution and hence FHWA violated constitution by its action. Yes, the district court was correct in it decision when it upheld section 650.303(e)(2) as arbitrary.

Procedure:  Judgment of the district court was partly affirmed, partly reversed and remanded to the district court with instructions to FHWA for further proceedings, consistent with the court's opinion.

Rule:  Once a bridge had qualified for exemption, how frequently it is to be inspected is not explained under section 650.305, and is therefore fatally inconsistent with the constitution.

Rationale:  If the agency exempted certain category of bridges from the two-year rule, the agency must also establish by regulation an appropriately longer time period between inspections applicable to that category. If the agency attempted to cure the above section, it should have made clear what constituted the administrative record and must include the necessary evidentiary support within those materials.  With regard to the five-year period for underwater inspections, the FHWA drawing upon the expertise of AASHTO, adopted the AASHTO standard as the collective best judgment of professional bridge engineers. The appellants had not alleged anything against the five-year-rule, which enjoyed the support amongst safety experts outside AASHTO. In short, FHWA examined whatever little relevant data it had and articulated a satisfactory explanation for it.

 

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Michael Mordechai YadegariReviewsout of 83 reviews