Public land adjudication decisions are subject to judicial review in civil or criminal proceedings for judicial enforcement[i]. Hence, after the conclusion of administrative functions, the errors of law committed with regard to proper parties in the administration of the public land laws may be corrected in the courts by means of judicial review[ii].
However, any matter relating to public lands that are directed to a federal agency for regulation and decision cannot be submitted for judicial review pending disposal, unless there is a statute to the contrary. In judicial review, the administrative interpretations of federal law concerning public lands are given a great weight.
Judicial review of an agency action is available in a court of competent jurisdiction or in a court specified by statute. Where a statute authorizing judicial review in a particular court is absent, a non-statutory review in federal district court under the general “federal question” jurisdictional statute is available[iii].
Ordinarily, individuals or groups who are injured or aggrieved within the meaning of a public lands statute can only seek judicial review of administrative decisions that violate statutes. But, in order to establish the standing to challenge an administrative action by judicial review, a petitioner must show[iv]:
- that an injury in fact has occurred; and
- that the interest or injury asserted falls within the zone of interest to be protected by the statute or constitutional guarantee.
However, in situations where an agency’s competence is in question, judicial review will be adjourned until the proper administrative agency has had an opportunity to decide on the questions involved, even if the petitioner had standing. Any action challenging the legal sufficiency of a government land withdrawal must be filed within six years of the publication of the withdrawal in the Federal Register[v].
Almost every administrative action can be subjected to judicial review. But, actions of Congress with respect to the confirmation of a claim under a grant from a predecessor government are final with respect to their validity and character. Such actions are not subject to judicial review either by the U.S. Supreme Court or by any other judicial tribunal.
In reviewing an administrative decision concerning public lands, a court will examine the following:
- whether the proper legal standard was applied;
- whether the applicable rules and regulations were correctly interpreted in arriving at the ruling; and
- whether there was an evidentiary basis for the administrative decision.
An agency decision that seemingly violates the National Environmental Policy Act or the Federal Land Policy and Management Act can be set aside on judicial review for the following reasons[vi]:
- if it is arbitrary; or
- if it is capricious; or
- if it is an abuse of discretion; or
- if it is not in accordance with law.
[i] 43 USCS § 1701.
[ii] Mickadiet v. Payne, 269 F. 194, 194-195 (D.C. Cir. 1920).
[iii] 5 USCS § 703.
[iv] Lasalle Ambulance v. New York State Dep’t of Health, 245 A.D.2d 724 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 1997).
[v] Cloud Found., Inc. v. Kempthorne, 546 F. Supp. 2d 1003 (D. Mont. 2008).
[vi] 5 USCS § 706.