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Davids v. United States Department of Agriculture

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

March 18, 2019

KAREN G. DAVIDS, as Trustee of the Harold D. and Karen G. Davids Revocable Trust, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LINDA R. READER JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ............................................................................... 1

         II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY ................................................... 2

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW .................................................................... 2

         A. Review of Final Decision .............................................................. 2

         B. Review of Report and Recommendation ............................................ 3

         IV. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND .................................................. 5

         V. RELEVANT STATUTORY BACKGROUND .............................................. 6

         VI. OBJECTIONS ................................................................................... 8

         A. The Clark Case ......................................................................... 8

         B. NRCS's Duty to Consider Evidence of Minimal Effects ....................... 10

         C. NFSAM Compliance .................................................................. 12

         D. Affirmance of the Final Decision .................................................. 13

         VII. CONCLUSION ................................................................................. 14

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The matter before the court is Plaintiff Karen G. Davids's Objections (docket no. 31) to United States Chief Magistrate Judge Kelly K.E. Mahoney's Report and Recommendation (docket no. 30), which recommends that the court affirm the decision of Defendant United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and enter judgment in its favor. See Report and Recommendation at 9.

         II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (docket no. 1), seeking judicial review of a final administrative decision denying the applicability of the “minimal effect” exception to wetlands located on farmland owed by Davids. See generally Complaint. On January 12, 2018, the USDA filed an Answer (docket no. 6). On April 20, 2018, Davids filed the Plaintiff's Brief (docket no. 25). On May 25, 2018, the USDA filed the Defendant's Brief (docket no. 27). On June 7, 2018, Davids filed the Reply Brief (docket no. 28). On June 8, 2018, 2018, the matter was referred to Judge Mahoney for issuance of a report and recommendation. On October 16, 2018, Judge Mahoney issued the Report and Recommendation, which recommends that the court affirm the USDA's decision. On October 30, 2018, Davids filed the Objections. On November 6, 2018, the USDA filed a Response (docket no. 32) to Davids's Objections. Neither party has requested oral argument and the court finds that oral argument is unnecessary. The matter is fully submitted and ready for decision.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Review of Final Decision

          The USDA's decision is the result of formal adjudication and, therefore, judicial review is governed by the standard set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). See Id. Under the APA, a reviewing court may set aside an agency decision if it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law” or “unsupported by substantial evidence.” 5 U.S.C. §§ 706(2)(A), (E). “When reviewing an agency decision, [the court] accord[s] substantial deference to the agency's interpretation of the statutes and regulations it administers.” Siebrasse v. USDA, 418 F.3d 847, 851 (8th Cir. 2005). However, courts do not defer to an agency interpretation that is “inconsistent with the plain language of the statute or constitutes an unreasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute.” Afolayan v. INS, 219 F.3d 784, 787 (8th Cir. 2000). Simply put, courts “do not defer to legal interpretations that are arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statutory law.” Patel v. Ashcroft, 375 F.3d 693, 696 (8th Cir. 2004).

         B. Review of Report and Recommendation

         Pursuant to statute, the court applies the following standard of review to the report and ...


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