We have all heard the saying that you “don’t need a sledgehammer to kill a gnat.” Yet, when it comes to fashioning remedies for agencies’ transgressions of administrative law principles, the courts often use the equivalent of legal sledgehammers to remedy agency transgressions—no matter how minor the transgressions. This, at least, is the picture painted by Professor Nicholas Bagley in his draft article titled Remedial Restraint in Administrative Law, which will be published in 2017 in the Columbia Law Review.
As Professor Bagley’s article carefully describes, when a court determines that agency action violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the usual response is for the reviewing court to reflexively invalidate the agency action and to remand to the agency. Administrative law’s adherence to this rigid, rule-like approach to remedies—one that generally vacates and remands without pausing to ask how the agency’s mistake harmed or prejudiced the complaining party—means that courts “treat every transgression as worthy of equal sanction.” (P. 4.) This, in turn, leads to what Professor Bagley perceives as a frequent mismatch between the underlying APA violation and the harshness of invalidating the agency action.
Until I picked up Professor Bagley’s piece, I must admit that I had not given the question of remedies in administrative law much sustained or critical thought. And, as it turns out, I am not alone. Indeed, as Professor Bagley describes it, “systematic inattention” plagues remedial questions in administrative law. (P. 2.) This is the main reason why I highly recommend that you read his article. Unless you are unlike most administrative law observers, the article will likely push you to consider issues that you have not carefully thought through before despite their central importance to administrative law disputes. Continue reading "Rethinking Remedies"