July 18, 2014

D.C. Circuit Rejects Challenge to FAA's Drone Policy as Premature

Holland & Knight Regulatory Litigation Blog
Christine N. Walz

Today, the D.C. Circuit granted the FAA's motion to dismiss a petition for review involving its enforcement policy on unmanned aerial systems, also referred to as drones. The petition was filed by Texas Equusearch, a not-for-profit organization who conducts search and rescue operations. Specifically, the petition sought to challenge the FAA's email communications directing the company to cease all use of radio-control model aircraft in connection with their search-and-rescue efforts. Texas Equusearch, argued that the email "declares in no uncertain terms that such operations are 'illegal' and demands that [Texas Equusearch] 'stop immediately.'"

In a per curium opinion, the court said that the challenged email communication from the FAA did not represent the consummation of the agency's decision-making process, nor did it give rise to any legal consequences. Noting that the email was not a "formal cease-and-desist letter representing the agency's final conclusion…that an entity has violated the law," the D.C. Circuit said it lacked authority to review the claim. The decision leaves the door open to challenges of formal cease-and-desist letters, which the court has previously found sufficient to constitute final agency action. 

Texas Equusearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team v. Federal Aviation Administration, Case No. 14-1061 (D.C. Cir.)

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