Updated at 2:48 p.m.
An administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs can't sue the agency for alleged violations of his judicial independence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled today.
J. Jeremiah Mahoney, the acting chief administrative law judge for the department, sued the department in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming his supervisor violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act by interfering with this independence. Today, a three-judge appeals panel found the trial court didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case because Mahoney failed to follow the proper procedures for pursuing his claims under the Civil Service Reform Act.
Senior D.C. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph, writing for the court, said the Civil Service Reform Act barred Mahoney from suing under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court didn't address the merits of Mahoney's underlying claims.
Mahoney's attorney, Kirkland & Ellis litigation partner Michael Williams, said he and Mahoney would be exploring their options as far as an appeal to a full sitting of the D.C. Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The entire point of the Administrative Procedure Act was to set administrative law judges apart from their agencies and make them independent," Williams said. "This decision appears to say that this independence is just another federal employee working condition. We disagree with that."
Mahoney, in a statement, said the "facts of this case demonstrate that, although the Executive Branch touts ALJs as independent decision makers, federal agencies may with impunity undermine—directly and indirectly—the ability of ALJs to decide cases independently."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Addy Schmitt, who argued the case for the government, also could not be reached this morning.
In his complaint, Mahoney claimed his non-judicial supervisor interfered with his independence by selectively assigning cases based on political considerations and communicating with litigants outside of judicial proceedings, among other grievances. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg dismissed the case in November 2011, finding Mahoney lacked standing to sue.
The appeals court didn't address the standing question, instead finding that the lower court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The panel found that the Civil Service Reform Act was "designed to safeguard the decisional independence of administrative law judges." The act spelled out a process for handling complaints from federal employees, including claims about changes to working conditions.
Randolph wrote that Mahoney's allegations fell within the statute's definition of "working conditions," so he should have pursued his claims through the administrative process set out in that law, instead of suing under the Administrative Procedure Act.
During oral arguments on May 10, Williams argued his client's claims weren't about his "working conditions" as defined under the Civil Services Reform Act, so it was appropriate for him to sue under the Administrative Procedure Act.
How cases were assigned to administrative law judges, for instance, "strikes us as a working condition," Randolph wrote. More broadly, the court found that actions or behavior that allegedly interfered with an administrative law judge's judicial independence "may be said to affect his working conditions."
D.C. Circuit judges Brett Kavanaugh and Judith Rogers also heard the case.