Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion
470 U.S. 729 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729 (1985)

Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion

No. 83-703

Argued October 29, 1984

Decided March 20, 1985*

470 U.S. 729

Syllabus

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2342(4), a provision of the Hobbs Act, the courts of appeals have exclusive jurisdiction over petitions for review of "all final orders" of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "made reviewable by" 42 U.S.C. § 2239. Section 2239(b), in turn, provides that the Hobbs Act governs review of "[a]ny final order entered in any proceeding of the kind specified in subsection (a) of this section." Subsection (a)(1) provides that,

"[i]n any proceeding under this chapter, for the granting, suspending, revoking, or amending of any license . . . the Commission shall grant a hearing upon the request of any person whose interest may be affected by the proceeding."

Respondent Lorion (hereafter respondent) wrote a detailed letter to the Commission expressing fears about potential safety threats at Florida Power & Light Co.'s nuclear reactor near her home, and urging the Commission to suspend the reactor's operating license. The Commission treated the letter as a citizen petition, under its rules, requesting the institution of administrative proceedings to suspend the license. After the Commission ultimately denied the request, respondent petitioned the Court of Appeals for review. The court decided sua sponte that it lacked initial subject matter jurisdiction to review the Commission's denial of respondent's citizen petition, concluding that such a denial was not an order in a "proceeding" within the meaning of § 2239(a)(1).

Held: Section 2239 vests in the courts of appeals initial subject matter jurisdiction over Commission orders denying citizen petitions made pursuant to Commission rules. Pp. 470 U. S. 734-746.

(a) The language of § 2239 is ambiguous, because subsection (b) refers to "proceeding[s] of the kind specified in subsection (a)," but the pertinent sentence in subsection (a)(1) sets forth both the scope of Commission licensing proceedings and a hearing requirement for such proceedings. Thus, § 2239 may be read to authorize initial court of appeals

Page 470 U. S. 730

review either by reference to whether a hearing was held pursuant to the hearing requirement (as the Court of Appeals did here), or by reference to the subject matter of the agency action, that is, whether the order was issued in a licensing proceeding. Pp. 470 U. S. 735-737.

(b) Relevant evidence of congressional intent in the legislative history supports the interpretation that Congress intended to provide for initial court of appeals review of all final orders in licensing proceedings whether or not a hearing before the Commission occurred or could have occurred. Pp. 470 U. S. 737-740.

(c) Whether subject matter jurisdiction over denials of citizens petitions properly lies in the district courts or the courts of appeals must also be considered in light of the basic congressional choice of Hobbs Act review in § 2239(b). The Hobbs Act specifically contemplates initial courts of appeals review of agency orders resulting from proceedings in which no hearing took place. Pp. 470 U. S. 740-741.

(d) Adopting a rule that would vest the courts of appeals with initial subject matter jurisdiction of challenges to Commission denials of citizen petitions only when an administrative hearing occurred or could have occurred would result in irrational consequences that could not be squared with general principles respecting judicial review of agency action. Pp. 470 U. S. 741-745.

229 U.S.App.D.C. 440, 712 F.2d 1472, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 470 U. S. 746.

Page 470 U. S. 731

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