Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
|Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.|
Supreme Court of the United States
|Argued February 29, 1984
Decided June 25, 1984
|Full case name||Chevron U.S.A. Incorporated v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Incorporated, et al.|
|Citations||467 U.S. 837 (more)
104 S. Ct. 2778; 81 L. Ed. 2d 694; 1984 U.S. LEXIS 118; 52 U.S.L.W. 4845; 21 ERC (BNA) 1049; 14 ELR 20507
|Prior history||Natural Resources Defense Council v. Gorsuch, 685 F.2d 718 (D.C. Cir. 1982), cert. granted sub nom. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 461 U.S. 956 (1983)|
|Subsequent history||Rehearing denied, 468 U.S. 1227 (1984)|
|Courts must defer to administrative agency interpretations of the authority granted to them by Congress (1) where the intent of Congress was ambiguous and (2) where the interpretation was reasonable or permissible.|
|Majority||Stevens, joined by Burger, White, Brennan, Powell, Blackmun|
|Marshall, Rehnquist, and O'Connor took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.|
|Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 (Pub. L. No. 95-95, 91 Stat. 685); 40 C.F.R. 51.18(j)(1)(i)-(ii) (1983)|
Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court set forth the legal test for determining whether to grant deference to a government agency's interpretation of a statute which it administers. Chevron is the Court's clearest articulation of the doctrine of "administrative deference," to the point that the Court itself has used the phrase "Chevron deference" in more recent cases.
Under the Supreme Court's ruling in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), United States federal courts have the authority to judicially review the statutes enacted by Congress, and declare a statute invalid if it violates the Constitution. But the Constitution sets no express limits on how much federal authority can be delegated to a government agency. Rather, limits on the authority granted to a federal agency occur within the statutes enacted by Congress.
Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1977 to address states that had failed to attain the air quality standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Defendant). "The amended Clean Air Act required these 'non-attainment' States to establish a permit program regulating 'new or modified major stationary sources' of air pollution." During the Carter administration, the EPA defined a source as any device in a plant[clarification needed] that produced pollution. In 1981, after Ronald Reagan's election, the EPA adopted a new definition that allowed an existing plant to get permits for new equipment that did not meet standards as long as the total emissions from the plant itself did not increase. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental protection group, challenged the EPA regulation in federal court, which ruled in their favor. Chevron, an affected party, appealed the lower court's decision.
The issue facing the Chevron court, therefore, was what standard of review should be applied by a court to a government agency's own reading of a statute that it is charged with administering.
The Court, in an opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens, upheld the EPA's interpretation. A two-part analysis was born from the Chevron decision (called the "Chevron two-step test"), where a reviewing court determines:
(1) "First, always, is the question whether Congress has spoken directly to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court as well as the agency must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress."
"If the Court determines Congress has not directly addressed the precise question at issue, the court does not simply impose its own construction of the statute . . . Rather,
(2) [I]f the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific question, the issue for the court is whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute." Chevron U.S.A. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837, 842–843 (1984).
Interestingly, 18 years later Chevron itself was able to invoke Chevron deference to win another case before the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the Court applied Chevron deference and upheld as reasonable an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulation, which allowed an employer to refuse to hire an applicant when the applicant's disability on the job would pose a "direct threat" to the applicant's own health. Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73 (2002).
Three recent decisions of the Supreme Court may limit the scope of administrative agency actions that receive Chevron deference to agency decisions that have the "force of law." This new doctrine is sometimes referred to as "Chevron step zero." Thus, for example, a regulation promulgated under the "notice and comment" provisions of § 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act would be likely to receive Chevron deference, while a letter sent by an agency, such as a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) "no-action" letter, would not. However, an agency action that does not receive Chevron deference may still receive some degree of deference under the old standard of Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). The majority in Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000) suggested that Chevron deference should apply to formal agency documents which have the force of law while Skidmore should apply to less formal agency documents in an attempt to draw a bright line for the question of "force of law" under Chevron step zero.
See also 
- Chevron Corporation - the defendant
- Natural Resources Defense Council - the plaintiff
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 467
- Skidmore v. Swift & Co.
- Wednesbury unreasonableness - a similar UK doctrine, though the decision of the UK House of Lords in Regina v. Monopolies and Mergers Commission, Ex parte South Yorkshire Transport  1 W.L.R. 23 goes somewhat further in introducing Chevron reasoning into English administrative law.
- United States v. Mead Corp. - more recent case addressing the limits of Chevron deference and the deference to be afforded to informal rule making
- 467 U.S. 837 (Text of the opinion from Findlaw)
- United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 226 (2001).
- 467 U.S. at 840.
- NRDC v. Gorsuch, 685 F.2d 718.
- Thomas W. Merrill, Judicial Deference to Executive Precedent, 101 Yale L.J. 969, 982-985 (1992)
- See Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212 (2002) United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218 (2001); Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000).
- See, for example, Cass R. Sunstein, "Chevron Step Zero," 92 Va. L. Rev. 187 (2006).
- Cf. Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (1999) (no Chevron deference to opinion letter sent by NLRB about interpretation of overtime laws)
- See Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212 (2002) (stating explicitly that Skidmore still applies to agency actions that do not receive Chevron deference)
- Works related to Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. at Wikisource
- Text of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984) is available from: Justia · Findlaw