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09/19/79 Marine Wonderland & Animal v. Juanita M. Kreps

September 19, 1979




Before TAMM and MacKINNON, Circuit Judges, and AUBREY E. ROBINSON, Jr.,* United States District Judge for the District of Columbia.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Civil No. 78-0398).



In this case, we review the dismissal by the district court (Gesell, J.) of appellants' *fn1 action to enjoin federal officials *fn2 from continuing administrative proceedings against appellants for their alleged importation of marine mammals into the United States, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (Act). *fn3 We affirm. I

Appellants Marine Wonderland & Animal Park, Ltd. (Marineland) and John Holer chartered a plane to transport eight bottlenose dolphins captured under Mexican law from Mexico to Canada. While the plane *fn4 was flying at a low altitude over Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration requested it to land and to clear customs. *fn5 Customs inspection revealed the dolphins, two of which the National Marine Fisheries Service allowed Holer to retain after he telephonically acknowledged that the animals were still in the seizure of the United States government, consented to federal jurisdiction, and agreed to make himself available for future administrative or judicial process in the United States. Joint Appendix at 39-44.

Upon receipt of subsequent notices of violations of the Act, *fn6 appellants instituted the action below to enjoin administrative proceedings before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA or agency). The district court recognized the agency's primary jurisdiction and granted appellees' motion to dismiss. This appeal followed. II

It is a "long-settled rule of judicial administration that no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted." Myers v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 303 U.S. 41, 50-51, 58 S. Ct. 459, 463, 82 L. Ed. 638 (1938). See also Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 765, 95 S. Ct. 2457, 45 L. Ed. 2d 522 (1975); FPC v. Louisiana Power & Light Co., 406 U.S. 621, 647, 92 S. Ct. 1827, 32 L. Ed. 2d 369 (1972). Courts will not require exhaustion, however, when: (1) a clear jurisdictional defect is apparent; and (2) exhaustion will involve irreparable injury. *fn7 3 K. Davis, Administrative Law Treatise § 20.01, at 56 (1958).

Appellants allege that the proceedings before the NOAA are jurisdictionally defective in that: (1) the agency does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the alleged violations; and (2) personal jurisdiction over Canadian appellants Marineland and Holer is lacking.

As a general rule, an agency should make the initial determination of its jurisdiction. " "While the (agency's) decision is not the last word, it must assuredly be the first.' " FPC v. Louisiana Power & Light Co., 406 U.S. at 647, 92 S. Ct. at 1842 (quoting Marine Engineers Beneficial Association v. Interlake Steamship Co., 370 U.S. 173, 185, 82 S. Ct. 1237, 8 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1962)). Absence of agency jurisdiction in the case at bar is not clear. It is clear, however, that agency jurisdiction depends upon its determination of issues of law and fact.

Whether the agency has subject matter jurisdiction over the alleged violations hinges upon whether appellants' actions constitute an "importation" under the Act. *fn8 NOAA, which is charged with the administration of the Act, must be accorded first opportunity to interpret the meaning of "importation." *fn9 NOAA, as fact-finder and record-builder, is also best suited to determine factual issues. *fn10 For example, appellants raise the legal issue whether intent is an essential element of importation and the factual issue whether appellants had such intent. Appellants also question whether bailors may be considered importers based on bailees' actions. The agency must resolve, in the first instance, these legal and factual determinations.

Whether personal jurisdiction over appellants is lacking also depends upon resolution of legal and factual disputes best left to the agency's primary consideration. Judicial interference must be withheld to allow NOAA to determine, Inter alia, the following: whether the agents' importation subjects the principals to NOAA's jurisdiction; whether the agents acted beyond the scope of their authority; and whether appellants' actions created a sufficient nexus to support jurisdiction. Thus there is no clear jurisdictional defect, only clear jurisdictional disputes.

No irreparable injury will result if we entrust these jurisdictional disputes to NOAA for initial determination. "he expense and annoyance of litigation is "part of the social burden of living under government,' " and does not constitute irreparable injury. Petroleum Exploration, Inc. v. Public Service Commission, 304 U.S. 209, 222, 58 S. Ct. 834, 841, 82 L. Ed. 1294 (1938). Moreover, because the Act provides that penalties assessed by NOAA may only be collected through the courts, appellants are assured of judicial review of the agency's determination at an appropriate time. 16 U.S.C. § 1375(a) (1976). III

We find no patent lack of jurisdiction and no irreparable injury in the agency's initial determination of appellants' alleged violations and accompanying arguments. Accordingly, the ...

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