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NRA v. FEC (89-3011)


On February 27, 1992, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected NRA's challenge to the FEC's dismissal of an administrative complaint. The court ruled that the statutory time bar removed its jurisdiction to review the FEC's decision, since the same issues were considered and dismissed in a previous complaint and NRA failed to challenge that decision within the 60 days allowed by law.


On February 25, 1993, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a per curiam judgment, affirmed the district court's ruling (No. 92-5078).

NRA had filed several administrative complaints against Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), an incorporated membership organization. The first complaint challenged HCI's status as a membership organization, alleging that it illegally solicited nonmembers for contributions to its separate segregated fund. This first complaint resulted in a conciliation agreement in which HCI paid a civil penalty and amended its bylaws to qualify as a membership organization with solicitable members.

NRA's second complaint, Matter Under Review (MUR) 1891, alleged that HCI's membership still did not have sufficient rights to qualify as members. The Commission dismissed the complaint, concluding that HCI's amended bylaws satisfactorily established the rights of members by allowing them to participate in annual meetings and to elect a board director. NRA did not seek judicial review of the Commission's dismissal of MUR 1891.

The Commission also dismissed NRA's third complaint against HCI, MUR 2115, because the allegations were "virtually identical" to those raised in the second complaint. This time, NRA sought judicial review of the dismissal. Ruling on this suit, the district court held that NRA's petition constituted an untimely challenge to the FEC's dismissal of MUR 1891, since the issues in both MURs were substantially similar. A court of appeals affirmed that decision. National Rifle Association of America v. FEC, 854 F.2d 1330 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

NRA's most recent administrative complaint, the subject of the present suit, again challenged the status of HCI members. The FEC dismissed this fourth complaint, MUR 2836, because the issues had already been resolved in MUR 1891.

In this court case, NRA argued that the two MURs raised different issues, MUR 1891 dealing with member participation, and MUR 2836 focusing on member control. The court, however, found that "[d]espite the change in language, there remains no material variance between NRA's allegations in MUR 1891 and MUR 2836." The court therefore ruled that, because NRA did not appeal the FEC's decision in MUR 1891 within the 60 days allowed by law, it was barred from doing so in the present case.

Court decision

The court also rejected NRA's argument that the FEC's dismissal of MUR 2836 qualified for judicial review because the FEC had considered the substantive merits of the complaint. The court found that the FEC did not consider the merits but simply stated that the issues had been resolved in MUR 1891.

The court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction by virtue of the 60-day time bar and accordingly granted the FEC's motion to dismiss the suit.

In affirming the lower court's decision, the appeals court found that the district court had "correctly concluded that appellant's fourth administrative complaint raised issues 'substantially similar' to those resolved in a previous complaint, and that appellant's petition for judicial review was therefore untimely."

Source:   FEC RecordApril 1993; April 1992