Darby v. Cisneros,
509 U.S. 137 (1993)

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No. 91-2045. Argued March 22, 1993-Decided June 21, 1993

In a consolidated appeal from decisions by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to initiate administrative sanctions against petitioners, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that petitioners should be debarred from participating in federal programs for 18 months. Under HUD regulations, an ALJ's determination "shall be final unless ... the Secretary ... within 30 days of receipt of a request decides as a matter of discretion to review the [ALJ's] finding .... " 24 CFR §24.314(c). Neither party sought further administrative review, but petitioners filed suit in the District Court, seeking an injunction and declaration that the sanctions were not in accordance with law within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that petitioners, by forgoing the option to seek review by the Secretary, had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The court denied the motion and granted summary judgment to petitioners on the merits of the case. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the District Court had erred in denying the motion to dismiss.

Held: Federal courts do not have the authority to require a plaintiff to exhaust available administrative remedies before seeking judicial review under the APA, where neither the relevant statute nor agency rules specifically mandate exhaustion as a prerequisite to judicial review. The language of § 10(c) of the APA is explicit that an appeal to "superior agency authority" is a prerequisite to judicial review only when "expressly required by statute" or when the agency requires an appeal "by rule and provides that the [administrative] action is ... inoperative" pending that review. Since neither the National Housing Act nor applicable HUD regulations mandate further administrative appeals, the ALJ's decision was a "final" agency action subject to judicial review under § 10(c). The lower courts were not free to require further exhaustion of administrative remedies, although the exhaustion doctrine continues to apply as a matter of judicial discretion in cases not gov-


erned by the APA. Nothing in § 10(c)'s legislative history supports a contrary reading. Pp. 143-154.

957 F.2d 145, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, and the opinion of the Court with respect to Part III, in which WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined.

Steven D. Gordon argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Michael H. Ditton.

James A. Feldman argued the cause for respondents.

With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Bryson, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Deputy Solicitor General Mahoney, and Anthony J. Steinmeyer.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.* This case presents the question whether federal courts have the authority to require that a plaintiff exhaust available administrative remedies before seeking judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U. s. C. § 701 et seq., where neither the statute nor agency rules specifically mandate exhaustion as a prerequisite to judicial review. At issue is the relationship between the judicially created doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies and the statutory requirements of § 10(c) of the APA.l

*THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE SCALIA, and JUSTICE THOMAS join all but Part III of this opinion.

1 Section W(c), 80 Stat. 392-393, 5 U. S. C. § 704, provides:

"Agency action made reviewable by statute and final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy in a court are subject to judicial review. A preliminary, procedural, or intermediate agency action or ruling not directly reviewable is subject to review on the review of the final agency action. Except as otherwise expressly required by statute, agency action otherwise final is final for the purposes of this section whether or not there has been presented or determined an application for a declaratory order, for any form of reconsideration, or, unless the agency otherwise requires by rule and provides that the action meanwhile is inoperative, for an appeal to superior agency authority."

We note that the statute as codified in the United States Code refers to "any form of reconsiderations," with the last word being in the plu-

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