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T-Mobile S., LLC v. City of Roswell

United States Supreme Court

January 14, 2015

T-MOBILE SOUTH, LLC, Petitioner
v.
CITY OF ROSWELL, GEORGIA

[135 S.Ct. 809] Argued: November 10, 2014.

This preliminary Lexis version is unedited and subject to revision.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

DECISION:

City held noncompliant with obligations under 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii), as § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii) required localities, when denying applications to build cell-phone towers, to give reasons for denial in (1) denial notice; or (2) other essentially contemporaneous written record.

LAWYERS' EDITION HEADNOTES:

[190 L.Ed.2d 680] COMMUNICATIONS § 14

CELL PHONE TOWERS -- APPLICATIONS TO CONSTRUCT

Headnote:[1]

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 provides, in part, that any decision by a state or local government or instrumentality thereof to deny a request to place, construct, or modify personal wireless service facilities shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record. 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii). Regarding whether, and in what form, localities must provide reasons when they deny telecommunication companies' applications to construct cell phone towers, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that localities must provide or make available their reasons, but that those reasons need not appear in the written denial letter or notice provided by the locality. Instead, the locality's reasons may appear in some other written record so long as the reasons are sufficiently clear and are provided or made accessible to the applicant essentially contemporaneously with the written denial letter or notice. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

COMMUNICATIONS § 14

CELL PHONE TOWERS -- DENIAL OF APPLICATION

Headnote:[2]

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires localities to provide reasons when they deny applications to build cell phone towers. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

COMMUNICATIONS § 14

CELL PHONE TOWERS -- DENIAL OF APPLICATION

Headnote:[3]

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 generally preserves the traditional authority of state and local governments to regulate the location, construction, and modification of wireless communications facilities like cell phone towers, but imposes specific limitations on that authority. 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B). One of those limitations is that any decision to deny a request to build a tower shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii). Another is that parties adversely affected by a locality's decision may seek judicial review. § 332(c)(7)(B)(v). In order to determine whether a locality's denial was supported by substantial evidence, courts must be able to identify the reason or reasons why the locality denied the application. The Act requires local zoning boards to give reasons for their denials in writing. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

COMMUNICATIONS § 14

WIRELESS SERVICE FACILITIES -- DENIAL OF APPLICATION

Headnote:[4]

The requirement under 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii) that localities must provide reasons when they deny applications is underscored by two of the other limitations on local authority set out in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act provides that localities shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services, and may not regulate the construction of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Federal Communications Commission's regulations concerning such emissions. § 332(c)(7)(B)(i)(1), (iv). It would be considerably more difficult for a reviewing court to determine whether a locality had violated these substantive provisions if the locality were not obligated to state its reasons. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

[190 L.Ed.2d 681] ADMINISTRATIVE LAW § 263STATUTES § 178

TERM OF ART -- SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Headnote:[5]

The statutory phrase " substantial evidence" is a term of art in administrative law that describes how an administrative record is to be judged by a reviewing court. There is no reason discernible from the text of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to think that Congress meant to use the phrase in a different way. When Congress employs a term of art, it presumably knows and adopts the cluster of ideas that were attached to each borrowed word in the body of learning from which it was taken. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW § 160

GROUNDS FOR ACTION -- SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Headnote:[6]

By employing the term " substantial evidence" in 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii), Congress invoked, among other things, the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition that the orderly functioning of the process of substantial-evidence review requires that the grounds upon which the administrative agency acted be clearly disclosed, and that courts cannot exercise their duty of substantial-evidence review unless they are advised of the considerations underlying the action under review. An agency must articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action to enable substantial-evidence review. Complete statements by the agency showing the grounds upon which its determinations rest are quite as necessary as are opinions of lower courts setting forth the reasons on which they base their decisions. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

STATUTES § 174

TELECOMMUNICATIONS -- IMPLIED LIMITATION

Headnote:[7]

Congress intended to place specific limitations on the traditional authority of state and local governments regarding cell phone tower siting applications. One of those " limitations," 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B), necessarily implied by the Telecommunications Act of 1996's " substantial evidence" requirement, is that local zoning authorities state their reasons when they deny applications. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

STATUTES § 164.9

TELECOMMUNICATIONS -- TEXT

Headnote:[8]

The statutory text and structure of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii), and the concepts that Congress imported into the statutory framework, all point clearly toward the conclusion that localities must provide reasons when they deny cell phone tower siting applications. However, these reasons need not be elaborate or even sophisticated, but rather, simply clear enough to enable judicial review. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

COMMUNICATIONS § 14

CELL PHONE TOWER -- SITING APPLICATION -- DENIAL

Headnote:[9]

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii), a locality's reasons for denying a cell phone tower siting application are not required to appear in the same writing that conveys the locality's denial of the application. Other than providing that a locality's reasons must be given in writing, nothing in the text imposes any requirement that the reasons be given in any particular form. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

[190 L.Ed.2d 682] COMMUNICATIONS § 14STATUTES § 164.9

WIRELESS SERVICE FACILITIES -- DENIAL OF APPLICATION -- STATUTORY TEXT

Headnote:[10]

The Telecommunications Act of 1996's saving clause makes clear that, other than the enumerated limitations imposed on local governments by the statute itself, nothing in the chapter shall limit or affect the authority of a state or local government or instrumentality thereof over decisions regarding the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities. 47 U.S.C.S. § 332(c)(7)(A). Given this language, and the system of " cooperative federalism" on which the Act is premised, the U.S. Supreme Court understands the enumerated limitations to set out an exclusive list. So while the text and structure of the Act render it inescapable that localities must provide reasons in writing when they deny applications, the Supreme Court can locate in the Act no command--either explicit or implicit--that localities must provide those reasons in a specific document. Therefore, Congress imposed no specific requirement on that front, but instead permitted localities to comply with their obligation to give written reasons so long as the locality's reasons are stated clearly enough to enable judicial review. Although the statute does not require a locality to provide its written reasons in any particular format, and although a locality may rely on detailed meeting minutes, the local government may be better served by including a separate statement containing its reasons. (Sotomayor, J., joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ.)

COMMUNICATIONS § 23

CELL PHONE TOWER -- DENIAL OF APPLICATION -- JUDICIAL REVIEW

Headnote:[11]

A locality cannot stymie or burden the judicial review contemplated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by delaying the release of its reasons for a substantial time after it conveys its written denial of a cell phone tower siting application. The statute provides that an entity adversely affected by a locality's decision may seek judicial review within 30 days of the decision. 47 U.S.C.S. ยง 332(c)(7)(B)(v). Because an entity may not be able to make a considered decision whether to seek judicial review without knowing the reasons for the denial of its application, and because a court cannot review the denial without knowing the locality's reasons, the locality must ...


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