Posted:  June 6, 2013

In Bartlett v. United States Dep’t of Agric., No. 12-3087,2013 WL 2420501 (8thCir. June 5, 2013), the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a federal district court decision to dismiss an action brought by more than three dozen corn and soybean farmers claiming that the defendants improperly calculated their Supplemental Assistance Payments Program (SURE) payments.  This case is noteworthy, in part, because it contains important statements of administrative law relative to USDA National Appeals Division (NAD) decision-making and the issue of “matters of general applicability.” 

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa dismissed the plaintiffs’ lawsuit for failure to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing their lawsuit in federal district court.   On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that they were not required to exhaust their administrative remedies because “further appeal within the USDA would have been futile, their claim raised a purely legal question, and the Iowa FSA’s misconduct equitably estops the Government from asserting the failure to exhaust defense.”  After individually examining each of the plaintiffs’ claims, the Eight Circuit concluded that “[b]ecause the Producers are unable to demonstrate any of the limited exceptions to the administrative exhaustion requirement apply, the district court did not err in dismissing their suit for failure to exhaust.” 


In its decision, the Eighth Circuit reemphasized its position – previously espoused in Ace Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Fed. Crop Ins. Corp., 440 F.3d 992 (8thCir. 2006) — that 7 U.S.C. § 6912(e) is non-jurisdictional.  This is important for several reasons, including that it differs from Bastek v. Fed. Crop Ins. Corp., 145 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 1998), which held that § 6912(e) is jurisdictional in nature and, therefore, a bar to judicial review.