City of Arlington v. Federal Communications Commission

Justia Summary

The Communications Act of 1934 requires state or local governments to act on siting applications for wireless facilities “within a reasonable period of time after the request is duly filed.” 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(ii). The FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling concluding that the phrase “reasonable period of time” is presumptively (but rebuttably) 90 days to process an application to place a new antenna on an existing tower and 150 days to process all other applications. The cities of Arlington and San Antonio challenged the Ruling. The Fifth Circuit found the statute ambiguous and upheld the FCC’s determination that section 201(b)’s broad grant of regulatory authority empowered it to administer section 332(c)(7)(B). The Supreme Court affirmed. Courts must apply the Chevron framework to an agency’s interpretation of a statutory ambiguity that concerns the scope of the agency’s statutory authority (i.e., its jurisdiction). The Court rejected a contention that Chevron deference was not appropriate because the FCC asserted jurisdiction over matters of traditional state and local concern. The statute explicitly supplants state authority. There is no case in which a general conferral of rule-making or adjudicative authority has been held insufficient to support Chevron deference for an exercise of that authority within the agency’s substantive field. A general conferral of rule-making authority validates rules for all the matters the agency is charged with administering. It is sufficient that the preconditions to deference under Chevron are satisfied because Congress has unambiguously vested the FCC with general authority to administer the Communications Act through rule-making and adjudication, and the interpretation at issue was promulgated in the exercise of that authority.