On November 8, 2021, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the court) granted Campaign Legal Center’s (the plaintiff) renewed motion for default judgment against the Commission. The court found that the Commission’s failure to act on the plaintiff’s administrative complaint was contrary to law and ordered the Commission to act on the complaint within 30 days.
On March 24, 2020, the plaintiff filed suit alleging that the Commission had failed to act on an administrative complaint filed by the plaintiff on August 23, 2018. On May 28, 2020, the Clerk of the Court declared the Commission in default for failing to plead or otherwise defend the suit. The plaintiff moved for default judgment on June 1, 2020. On March 11, 2021, the court denied the motion for default judgment because both the suit and the motion were filed at a time when the Commission did not have a quorum to conduct business. In its order denying the motion, the court stated that its ruling was “without prejudice to a renewed motion if defendant does not enter an appearance in this case by May 1, 2021.” As the Commission did not enter an appearance in the case, on May 5, 2021 the plaintiff filed a second motion for default judgment.
The court found that the plaintiff has standing to file this suit and proceeded to consider whether the Commission’s failure to act was contrary to law under the Federal Election Campaign Act and whether the delay is unreasonable and justifies relief. Under D.C. Circuit precedent, there are five factors for determining whether the agency’s failure to act is contrary to law:
- The credibility of the allegations made in the administrative complaint;
- The nature of the threat posed by the violations alleged;
- The resources available to the Commission for investigating the complaint;
- The information available to the Commission; and
- The novelty of issues raised by the complaint.
Finding that all five of the factors weigh in the plaintiff’s favor, the court proceeded to consider whether the delay in agency action is unreasonable and justifies relief. Under D.C. Circuit precedent, the following principles should be considered when determining whether a delay in agency action is unreasonable:
- The time agencies take to make decisions must be governed by a ‘rule of reason’;
- Where Congress has provided a timetable or other indication of the speed with which it expects the agency to proceed in the enabling statute, that statutory scheme may supply content for this rule of reason;
- Delays that might be reasonable in the sphere of economic regulation are less tolerable when human health and welfare are at stake;
- The court should consider the effect of expediting delayed action on agency activities of a higher or competing priority;
- The court should also take into account the nature and extent of the interests prejudiced by delay; and
- The court need not find any impropriety lurking behind agency lassitude in order to hold that agency action is unreasonably delayed.
Finding that the consideration of all of these principles weighs in favor of granting relief, the court granted the plaintiff’s renewed motion for default judgment against the Commission, found that the Commission’s failure to act on the plaintiff’s administrative complaint was contrary to law, and ordered the Commission to act on the complaint within 30 days.
- Campaign Legal Center v. FEC (20-0809) litigation page