United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
March 22, 2017
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:13-cv-00037)
J. Vecchione argued the cause for appellant. With him on the
briefs were Joshua N. Schopf and R. James Valvo, III.
Waldman, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the
cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Michael S.
Before: Garland, Chief Judge, and Griffith and Kavanaugh,
Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge.
U.S. Department of Energy provides loans and other financial
support to companies that produce clean-energy vehicles and
related technologies. The Department does so under various
statutory programs, including the Loan Guarantee Program and
the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program.
To receive a loan or loan guarantee from the Department,
companies must submit applications to the programs. The
Department then evaluates the applications for compliance
with statutory requirements and technical merit.
is a company that specializes in the production of battery
systems for electric cars. In 2009, Limnia submitted two loan
applications to the Department. The Department rejected
sued the Department in the District Court. As relevant here,
Limnia alleged that the Department's rejection of
Limnia's applications was unlawful under the
Administrative Procedure Act. Before the District Court could
decide Limnia's case on the merits, however, the
Department asked for the case to be remanded back to the
agency. The District Court granted the Department's
voluntary remand request, returning Limnia's case to the
agency and closing Limnia's judicial action. We must
determine whether it was proper for the District Court to do
argues that the District Court was wrong to grant the
Department's voluntary remand request. That is so,
according to Limnia, because the Department did not intend to
revisit the challenged agency decisions on review. Rather,
the Department sought the remand on the basis that Limnia
could submit brand new applications for agency review. Limnia
contends that, with the case in that posture, the District
Court's decision to grant the voluntary remand request
functioned as a dismissal of Limnia's APA claims.
agree with Limnia. A district court has broad discretion to
decide whether and when to grant an agency's request for
a voluntary remand. But a voluntary remand is typically
appropriate only when the agency intends to revisit the
challenged agency decision on review. That prerequisite was
not met in this case. We therefore reverse the order of the
District Court and remand the case to the District Court for
further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
U.S. Department of Energy oversees various loan programs
designed to spur the development and production of
clean-energy technologies. This case involves two such
programs: the Loan Guarantee Program and the Advanced
Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program. See
42 U.S.C. § 16511 et seq.; id. §
17013. Under those programs, companies involved in the
development of eligible clean-energy technologies may apply
to the Department for direct financial support in the form of
loans or loan guarantees.
Limnia, Inc., develops battery systems for use in electric
cars. In early 2009, Limnia applied for a loan guarantee
under the Loan Guarantee Program. Around the same time,
Limnia submitted an application seeking a $15 million loan
under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan
some back and forth with Limnia, the Department denied
Limnia's applications. The Department rejected
Limnia's Loan Guarantee Program application due to
Limnia's failure to pay the required application fee. As
for Limnia's application to the Advanced Technology
Vehicles Manufacturing loan program, the Department denied
the application on the basis that Limnia's battery system
did not satisfy the program's statutory requirements.
disagrees with the Department on both fronts. It claims that
the Department was wrong to deny the Loan Guarantee Program
application for non-payment of the application fee. Limnia
alleges that the fee had been waived by then-Secretary of
Energy Steven Chu. Limnia also contends that its battery
system clearly met the statutory requirements for the
Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program.
Limnia asserts that the Department's explanations to the
contrary were mere pretext contrived by the Department to
mask a review and decision-making process infected by
political bias and favoritism. Limnia sued in the District
Court to challenge what it viewed as the Department's
wrongful denial of the 2009 applications.
relevant here, Limnia's complaint alleged that the
Department's 2009 decisions to deny Limnia's
applications violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
Limnia asserted that the denials were arbitrary and
capricious because they were based not on merit or other
technical specifications, but on political favoritism and
cronyism. Limnia also alleged that the Department
administered the Loan Guarantee Program in an inconsistent
and ad hoc manner. As an example, Limnia cited the