United States v. Bean, 537 U.S. 71 (2002)

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OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

UNITED STATES et al. v. BEAN

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 01-704. Argued October 16, 2002—Decided December 10, 2002

Because of respondent's felony conviction, he was prohibited by 18 U. S. C.

922(g)(1) from possessing, distributing, or receiving firearms or ammunition. Relying on 925(c), he applied to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) for relief from his firearms disabilities. ATF returned the application unprocessed, explaining that its annual appropriations law forbade it from expending any funds to investigate or act upon such applications. Invoking 925(c)'s judicial review provision, he filed suit, asking the District Court to conduct its own inquiry into his fitness to possess a gun and to issue a judicial order granting relief. The court granted the requested relief, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held: The absence of an actual denial by ATF of a felon's petition precludes judicial review under 925(c). The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to grant relief from a firearms disability if certain preconditions are met, and an applicant may seek federal-court review if the Secretary denies his application. Ibid. Since 1992, however, the appropriations bar has prevented ATF, to which the Secretary has delegated this authority, from using appropriated funds to investigate or act upon the applications. Section 925(c)'s text and the procedure it lays out for seeking relief make clear that an actual decision by ATF on an application is a prerequisite for judicial review, and that mere inaction by ATF does not invest a district court with independent jurisdiction. Grammatically, the phrase "denied by the Secretary" references the Secretary's decision on whether an applicant "will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety," and whether "the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest." Such determination can hardly be construed as anything but a decision actually denying the application. Under 925(c)'s procedure for those seeking relief, the Secretary, i. e., ATF, has broad authority to grant or deny relief, even when the statutory prerequisites are satisfied. This procedure shows that judicial review cannot occur without a dispositive decision by ATF. First, in the absence of a statutorily defined standard of review for action under 925(c), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) supplies the applicable standard. 5 U. S. C. 701(a), 706(2)(A). The APA's "arbitrary and capricious" test, by its nature, contemplates review of some

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