National Park Hospitality Assn. v. Dept. of the Interior

PETITIONER: National Park Hospitality Assn.
RESPONDENT: Dept. of the Interior
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 02-196
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 538 US 803 (2003)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 2003
DECIDED: May 27, 2003

ADVOCATES:
John P. Elwood - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent
Kenneth Steven Geller - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (CDA) established rules governing disputes arising out of certain federal government contracts. After Congress enacted the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, which established a comprehensive concession management program for national parks, the National Park Service (NPS) issued 36 CFR section 51.3, which purported to render the CDA inapplicable to concession contracts. The National Park Hospitality Association challenged 51.3's validity. Upholding the regulation, the District Court concluded that the CDA is ambiguous as to whether it applies to concession contracts and found the NPS's interpretation reasonable. In affirming, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the NPS's reading of the CDA consistent with both the CDA and the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998.

Question

Does the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 apply to contracts between the National Park Service and concessioners in the national parks?

Media for National Park Hospitality Assn. v. Dept. of the Interior

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 2003 in National Park Hospitality Assn. v. Dept. of the Interior

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 27, 2003 in National Park Hospitality Assn. v. Dept. of the Interior

Clarence Thomas:

The second opinion I have to announce for the Court is National Park Hospitality Association versus Department of Interior, No. 02-196.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

To make visits to national parks more enjoyable for the public, Congress has authorized a national park service to enter into concession contract for various goods and services.

In regulations issued in April 2000, the park service took the position that concession contracts are not subject to the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, the CDA.

That Act provides certain protections for entities contracting with the United States Government.

Petitioner, an association of concessioners doing business in the national parks challenged the regulation’s validity.

The District Court held in favor of the park service and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we vacate that judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand with instructions to dismiss because the controversy is not yet ripe.

Determining whether administrative action is ripe for judicial review requires us to evaluate two considerations: First, the fitness of the issues for judicial decision, and second, the hardship for the parties withholding judicial review.

Taking the hardship question first, the regulation here is nothing more than a general policy statement informing the public of the park services views on the proper application of the CDA.

As such, the regulation does not create adverse effects of a strictly legal kind and does not affect a concessioner's primary conduct.

Petitioner argues that delaying judicial resolution of the issue will cause real harm because the CDA’s applicability is one of the factors taken into account by concessioners preparing its bids.

We are not persuaded.

Mere uncertainty as to the validity of a legal rule does not constitute a hardship for purposes of the ripeness analysis.

In short, petitioner has failed to demonstrate the hardship required for the controversy to be ripe

Nor is the issue presented fit for review, even though the question is purely legal and the regulation constitutes final agency action under the APA, both parties rely on specific characteristics of certain types of concession contracts to support their position.

Such reliance demonstrates that further factual development would significantly advance our ability to deal with the legal issue presented.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice O’Connor joined.