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NRA v. FEC (87-5373)


On August 5, 1988, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a decision in National Rifle Association of America (NRA) v. FEC (Civil Action No. 87-5373), which affirmed an October 1987 decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In its decision, the district court found that a petition for review of the Commission's dismissal of an administrative complaint that NRA had filed against Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) constituted an untimely appeal of an earlier FEC dismissal of another administrative complaint also filed by NRA against HCI. See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(B).


NRA's suit challenged the FEC's dismissal of NRA's third administrative complaint against HCI. NRA's third administrative complaint had alleged violations of the election law by HCI, an incorporated membership organization that supports restrictions on gun ownership. All three of NRA's administrative complaints challenged HCI's status as a membership organization under the election law.

The first administrative complaint resulted in a conciliation agreement between the FEC and HCI. In dismissing NRA's second administrative complaint, the FEC found that HCI had qualified as a membership organization by taking the steps specified in the conciliation agreement resulting from the first complaint, even though it had improperly applied the membership requirements retroactively to past contributors. With respect to NRA's third administrative complaint, the FEC found that the allegations were virtually identical to those raised in NRA's second complaint. Consequently, the agency dismissed the third complaint.

District court ruling

In a brief filed with the district court, the FEC argued that, under section 437g(a)(8)(B) of the election law, a party challenging the agency's dismissal of an administrative complaint must file suit within 60 days after the date of dismissal. NRA did not petition for review of the FEC's dismissal of its second administrative complaint within the statutory time period. Instead, NRA reasserted its previously dismissed claim in a third administrative complaint which, the FEC contended, amounted to nothing more than an attempt to obtain review beyond the 60-day period.

In dismissing NRA's suit, the court concurred with the FEC's argument. On October 26, 1987, NRA filed an appeal of the district court's decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Appeals court ruling

In affirming the district court's dismissal of NRA's suit, the appeals court found that "the second and third NRA complaints [were] substantially similar by virtue of the fact that the legal question posed by both was the same: whether an organization that does not provide for an annual meeting at which members may participate in the conduct of corporate business may qualify as a membership organization under section 441b(b)(4)(C).... Having raised that issue in the second complaint and [having] failed to appeal the Commission's order, the NRA cannot obtain judicial review of the issue by the expedient of bringing it (albeit in a more concrete context) before the FEC once again."

The appeals court concurred with NRA's argument that, because it had dismissed the merits of NRA's argument in rejecting its third administrative complaint, the FEC had effectively reopened the issue and had rendered a decision that was, in principle, subject to court review. Nevertheless, the appeals court noted that NRA had failed to make this argument with the district court when the FEC moved to dismiss NRA's suit on grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over it. The appeals court concluded that, "having failed to raise the reopening argument as the basis for jurisdiction in the District Court, the NRA is not at liberty to raise it for the first time on appeal."

Source:   FEC RecordOctober 1988. National Rifle Association v. FEC, No. 86-2285 (D.D.C. Oct. 19, 1987 ) (unpublished opinion), aff'd, 854 F.2d 1330 (D.C. Cir. 1988).