United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff King County's
(“King County” or the “County”)
motion for a preliminary injunction and summary judgment
(Dkt. No. 20) and Defendants Alex Azar and the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services'
(“Defendants”) cross-motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. No. 26). Having thoroughly considered the parties'
briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral
argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS King County's
motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 20) and DENIES
Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No.
26) for the reasons explained herein.
established the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (“TPP”)
Program in 2010 “to fund medically accurate and age
appropriate programs that reduce teen pregnancy.” (Dkt.
No. 1 at 1, 6) (citing Consolidated Appropriations Act, Pub.
L. No. 111-117, 123 Stat. 3034, 3253 (2010)). The TPP Program
is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services (“HHS”) through its Office of Adolescent
Health (“OAH”). (Dkt. No. 20 at 4.) Congress
directed OAH to fund two tiers of grants: Tier 1 grants to
fund programs with demonstrated positive impacts on sexual
behavior outcomes, and Tier 2 grants to fund development and
testing of new and innovative approaches to preventing teen
pregnancy. Id. Congress has appropriated funds for
the TPP Program every year since 2010. (Id.) HHS
awarded a first set of five-year TPP Program grants in 2010
and a second set of grants in 2015. (Id. at 1.)
2015, King County received a Tier 2B grant for a long-term study
of its High School Family Life and Sexual Health
(“FLASH”) curriculum. (Id. at 7.) The
initial Notice of Award (“NOA”) approved a
cooperative agreement with King County for a five-year
“project period, ” funded through one-year
“budget periods.” (Dkt. No. 21-1 at 180.) The
agreement required King County to submit a non-competing
continuation application annually to obtain funds for the
following budget year. (Dkt. No. 20 at 2.) The continuation
applications allow HHS to ensure that federal funding has
been appropriated, a project has been making satisfactory
progress, and a grantee is an adequate steward of federal
funds. (Dkt. Nos. 28 at 40, 21-1 at 180.) Annual continuation
applications include a progress report, work plan, budget,
and budget justification for the upcoming year. (Dkt. No.
22-1 at 186.) In 2016, King County's year-two
continuation application was approved with commendations.
(Dkt. No. 23-1 at 42-43, 49-50.)
2017, HHS approved King County's continuation application
for year three of the grant. (Dkt. No. 21-1 at 202.) HHS
issued a Notice of Award (“NOA”) allocating funds
for the ensuing budget year, but also stating that the agency
was “[shortening] the project period” from June
30, 2020 to June 30, 2018. (Id.) This was the only
notice King County received of HHS's decision shortening
its grant by two years, and HHS provided no further
explanation. (Dkt. No. 20 at 9.) TTP Program grants across
the country were similarly summarily “shortened.”
(Id.) King County appealed HHS's action to the
agency, characterizing it as a “termination” that
failed to comply with HHS regulations. (Dkt. No. 21-1 at 2.)
The County received no response. (Dkt. No. 20 at 9.) Despite
HHS's “shortening” of TPP Program project
periods to end at the close of the 2017-2018 budget period,
on March 23, 2018, Congress appropriated year-four funds for
the TPP Program. (Dkt. No. 21 at 2.)
County challenges HHS's action as arbitrary and
capricious and contrary to law, and the agency's refusal
to process its year-four continuation application as an
unlawful withholding of agency action. (Dkt. No. 20 at 13.)
Defendants respond that King County had no entitlement to a
five-year grant, and HHS acted within its lawful discretion.
(Dkt. No. 26 at 9.)
County moves for summary judgment on its claim that HHS's
termination of its grant violated the Administrative
Procedure Act (“APA”) (Count I). (Dkt. No. 20 at
3, 13 n. 5.) The County also requests a preliminary
injunction directing HHS to process King County's
year-four non-competing continuation application (Count
(Id.) Defendants cross move for summary judgment,
seeking to dismiss the complaint. (Dkt. No. 26 at 9.) The
parties' dispute is purely legal. Thus, the Court finds
it appropriate to rule on the merits of King County's APA
claim (Counts I & II), which moots Plaintiff's motion
for an injunction. See Healthy Teen Network v.
Azar, No. C18-0468-CCB (D. Md. Apr. 25, 2018) (similarly
converting the plaintiff's motion for an injunction to a
motion for summary judgment).
provides for judicial review of agency actions or any person
“adversely affected or aggrieved” by a
“final agency action for which there is no other
adequate remedy in a court.” 5. U.S.C. §§
702, 704. Where questions before the Court are purely legal,
the Court can resolve an APA challenge on a motion for
summary judgment. See Fence Creek Cattle Co. v. U.S.
Forest Serv., 602 F.3d 1125, 1131 (9th Cir. 2010.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary
judgment is appropriate where the moving party “shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). However, in APA cases, the Court's
role is to determine whether, as a matter of law, evidence in
the administrative record supports the agency's decision.
Occidental Engineering Co. v. I.N.S., 753 F.2d 766,
769 (9th Cir. 1985).
matter turns, in large part, on the proper characterization
of the challenged action. King County contends that HHS's
decision to shorten its five-year project period was a
premature grant “termination.” (Dkt. No. 20 at
13.) HHS regulations allow for “termination” of a
Federal award: (1) when a grantee “fails to comply with
the terms and conditions of the award, ” (2) “for
cause, ” (3) with a grantee's consent, or (4) at
the grantee's request. 45 C.F.R. § 75.372. King
County argues that HHS terminated its award without
explanation and in violation of this regulation, an action
that was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law. (Dkt.
No. 36 at 2.)
contrast, Defendants characterize HHS's action as a
“withholding” of future non-competing
continuation awards, a decision not to issue a continuation
award, or a decision to re-compete appropriated TPP Program
Funds. (Dkt. Nos. 26 at 2, 25; 39 at 4.) Accordingly,
Defendants maintain HHS's termination regulation does not
apply. Instead, Defendants base their arguments on language
in HHS's Grant Policy Statement (“GPS”)
providing that the agency may “[withhold] a
non-competing continuation award” if: (1) adequate
Federal funds are not available; (2) a grantee fails to show
satisfactory progress; (3) a grantee fails to meet the terms
and conditions of the award; or (4) “for whatever
reason, continued funding would not be in the best
interests of the Federal government.” (Dkt. No. 28 at
250) (emphasis added). Defendants argue that each NOA issued
to King County incorporated this standard, which provides HHS
unfettered discretion to manage grant funds without judicial
oversight. (Dkt. No. 39 at 3-4.)
have attempted to convince multiple courts of their position
with no success.For the reasons stated below, this Court
reaches a similar conclusion as those courts. The Court will
address threshold arguments regarding the nature of the
challenged action and reviewability before reaching the
merits of King County's APA claims.