This is a classic administrative law case trying to determine whether plaintiffs have individual standing to contest an agency action, and, if so, whether the agency is entitled to judicial deference for its ruling. Unfortunately, the case arises in the D.C. district courts, which are very hostile to federal agencies and frequently ignore United States Supreme Court guidance on proper deference to agency action. Plaintiffs are animal rights advocates who are suing the Department of Agriculture for promulgating regulations that exclude birds, mice, and rats from the coverage of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), 7 U.S.C. s 2131, et seq.. The defendant argued that plaintiffs have no standing, having not personally suffered injury that is remediable under the act, that if they do have standing, the court should defer to the agency, and that this is not ripe for decision because the agency is in the process of reconsidering the rules.
The standing issue in this case is driven by Animal Legal Defense Fund, Inc. v. Glickman 154 F.3d 426 (D.C.Cir. 1998), in which the D.C. court found that "aesthetic injury" - being upset when you see mistreated animals - was sufficient to gain standing under the act. In that case, the plaintiff went to the zoo and was upset by the conditions of the animal cages. In this case, the plaintiffs were upset by seeing allegedly mistreated laboratory animals. The district court, guided by Animal Legal Defense Fund, found that these plaintiffs also had standing. The court went on to reject the agency's other defenses, finding that the exclusion of birds, mice, and rats was not a pure matter of agency discretion under the AWA and thus their exclusion was reviewable.
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