JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
Federal law vests in the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to make emergency loans to farmers who suffer economic losses as a result of a natural disaster. See Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (Act), §§ 321-330, 75 Stat. 311, as amended, 7 U. S. C. §§ 1961-1971.
In early April 1973 torrential rains struck 13 counties in the northern part of Florida. Initial estimates, which were later sharply reduced, projected that resulting crop and property losses would be in excess of $3 million. In light of the scope of these anticipated losses, on May 26, 1973, President Nixon declared the region a major disaster area. 38 Fed. Reg. 14800 (1973). See Disaster Relief Act of 1970, Pub. L. 91-606, 84 Stat. 1744 (repealed or transferred 1974). As a result of this declaration, the Secretary of Agriculture came under a statutory obligation to "make loans" to qualifying individuals in the region. 7 U. S. C. § 1961(b) (1970 ed., Supp. III).
At the time of the declaration, the federal disaster relief program, like much of the rest of the Federal Government, had become embroiled in a budgetary dispute between the Executive and Legislative Branches. In 1972, Congress had passed Pub. L. 92-385, 86 Stat. 554, which authorized emergency loans under terms far more generous than those available under later versions of the Act. Under the 1972 law as implemented by the Secretary, loans carried a 1% interest rate and were not conditioned upon the unavailability of alternative sources of credit. In addition, the Secretary was
Left unclear, however, was the status of disasters occurring during the 4-month period between December 27, 1972, and April 20, 1973, the effective date of Pub. L. 93-24. Congress resolved this uncertainty by passing Pub. L. 93-237, the provision at the center of this case. Section 4 of the new Act provided that, "[n]otwithstanding the provisions of Public Law 93-24," loans "with respect to natural disasters which occurred" during this interim period would be governed by the more generous terms of Pub. L. 92-385. In addition, § 10(c) provided that the deadline for applying for a loan would be extended 90 days beyond the date of the enactment
The Florida flood coincided with this period of confusion in the administration of federal disaster relief. Between May 26, 1973 (the date the disaster was declared), and January 2, 1974 (the date Pub. L. 93-237 became law), the loan program was administered pursuant to the terms of Pub. L. 93-24. Accordingly, during this initial loan period, farmers had nine months, or until February 26, 1974, to submit applications for emergency loans. At the time of the May 26, 1973, Presidential disaster declaration, and throughout the initial loan period, FmHA rules required the agency to follow certain procedures designed to notify potential borrowers of the availability of disaster relief. 7 CFR § 1832.3(a)(1) (1973). In addition to a general obligation to "make such public announcements as appear appropriate," the regulations required the FmHA County Supervisor to inform various local officials and "agricultural lenders" of "the assistance available under [the] program." Ibid.
Also included in the staff instructions were directions that "State Directors and County Supervisors . . . inform the news media, including newspapers, radio, and television in the affected counties of the provisions of P. L. 93-237." App. to Pet. for Cert. 49a (later published as § 1832.82(a) of the "Special Emergency Loan Policies . . . Implementing Applicable Provisions of Public Law 93-237," 39 Fed. Reg. 7569 (1974)). Attached to the instructions was a suggested news
On August 19, 1976, respondent Payne, a north Florida farmer, instituted the present action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Although he had received actual notice of the special 1974 emergency loan program, he sought to represent a class of approximately 2,500 farmers who had been eligible for loans under that program but, because of lack of notice, had not been aware of their eligibility. Contending that the FmHA's failure to publicize the program more fully violated the agency's own regulations and deprived them of property without due process of law, respondents sought an injunction directing the FmHA to reopen the loan program under the terms prevailing during the period "up to and including April 2, 1974." Complaint 6.
The District Court certified the class and granted the requested relief.
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, but on different grounds. Payne v. Block, 714 F.2d 1510 (1983). It accepted the District Court's various findings concerning the FmHA's failure to comply with the notice requirements set out in 7 CFR § 1832.3(a)(1) (1973). Those findings, however, "pertain[ed] only peripherally" to its decision to affirm. 714 F. 2d, at 1519. Regardless of any violations of 7 CFR § 1832.3(a)(1), the court concluded, the FmHA had failed to comply with its self-imposed obligation to notify the
The Secretary sought review in this Court, and we granted the petition for certiorari, vacated the judgment below, and remanded for reconsideration in light of our decision in Heckler v. Community Health Services of Crawford County, Inc., 467 U.S. 51 (1984). Block v. Payne, 469 U.S. 807 (1984). In Community Health Services, the Court held that, even assuming that principles of equitable estoppel ever applied against the Government, "a private party surely cannot prevail [on that theory] without at least demonstrating that the traditional elements of estoppel are present." 467 U. S., at 61. The Court of Appeals, observing that petitioners' liability was premised not on a theory of equitable estoppel but on the agency's failure to follow its own regulations, adhered to its prior views and reinstated its decision. Block v. Payne, 751 F.2d 1191 (1985).
Because the decision below exposes the Federal Government to substantial potential liability and because its reasoning implicates important questions about a federal court's
The Secretary's principal argument in this Court is that the remedy granted below shares all of the essential characteristics of an equitable estoppel against the Government and, accordingly, should be analyzed on those terms. We acknowledge that the practical effect of the injunction requiring the reopening of the loan program is to estop the FmHA from relying on the validly promulgated regulatory deadline as a basis for refusing to process further loan applications.
As the Court of Appeals correctly observed, however, respondents' inability to satisfy the stringent requirements of common-law estoppel does not independently decide the case. Indeed, beginning with their initial complaint and throughout the course of the litigation, respondents have never sought to rely on estoppel as a basis for recovery. Their theory instead, and the theory on which the lower courts granted the injunction, is that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U. S. C. § 551 et seq., authorizes this kind of relief to remedy the FmHA's alleged failure to comply with its duly promulgated notice regulations. It may well be that some of the same concerns that limit the application of equitable estoppel against the Government bear on the appropriateness of awarding other remedies that have a close substantive resemblance to an estoppel. We reject, however, petitioners' suggestion that any remedy that can be analogized to an equitable estoppel is necessarily invalid, regardless of the source of the cause of action, unless the plaintiff succeeds in proving all the elements of common-law estoppel. Cf. Honda v. Clark, 386 U.S. 484, 494-495 (1967). Indeed, any other rule has the potential for divesting the courts of the remedial authority specifically envisioned by Congress under the APA. If, for example, a farmer had filed a loan application prior to the expiration of the loan deadline and a court determined that the denial of the application after the deadline's expiration was "arbitrary, capricious [and] not in accordance with law," 5 U. S. C. § 706(2)(A), the appropriate remedy under the APA would be to direct that the application be granted or reconsidered. Although this would, in a sense, estop the Government from applying the deadline, we have never suggested that the applicant would be under an
The question before us then is not whether the Secretary should be estopped from applying the deadline, but whether the relief afforded by the District Court was appropriate under the APA. Respondents contend that the notice regulations, having been promulgated pursuant to the Secretary's delegated rulemaking authority, had the force and effect of law and therefore were binding on the agency. To remedy this noncompliance, they suggest, the District Court had the authority under 5 U. S. C. § 706 to "compe[l] `action unlawfully withheld' [notice] and `set aside agency action' [application of the deadline] found to be `without observance of procedures required by law.' " Brief for Respondents 21 (quoting 5 U. S. C. § 706) (bracketed material in original).
To prevail on this theory, respondents must clear at least three substantial hurdles. At the outset, not all agency publications are of binding force, Schweiker v. Hansen, 450 U.S. 785, 789 (1981); and it remains to be shown that the notice provisions, which began life as unpublished staff instructions, are the kind of agency law the violation of which is remediable at all. Second, an agency's power is no greater than that delegated to it by Congress. Thus, even assuming that Pub. L. 93-237 left the Secretary some discretion to extend the 90-day deadline beyond April 2, 1974, it would hardly be an abuse of that discretion to refuse to do so many years after the disaster had receded if such an extension would be inconsistent with the intent of Congress. Finally, the "agency action" respondents seek to have set aside is the "application of the deadline." Yet, with the exception of respondent Payne, who clearly has no standing,
We need not, however, definitively resolve any of these issues. Nor need we confront the Secretary's broader contention that it is in all instances inappropriate for a court, reviewing for agency compliance with the APA, to set aside one validly promulgated regulation to remedy an alleged violation of another entirely independent one. An essential predicate of the relief granted below is that the FmHA in fact failed to comply with its own rules. As we now explain, the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the FmHA violated its self-imposed obligation to give notice of the loan program is insupportable.
The Court of Appeals relied exclusively on the FmHA's purported violation of § 1832.82(a), the new notice provision, to uphold the injunction directing the Secretary to reopen the loan program. Although the agency did issue press releases, the court reasoned, its failure to describe the generous terms of the new program breached its regulatory obligation to " `inform the news media . . . of the provisions of P. L. No. 93-237.' " 714 F. 2d, at 1520, quoting 39 Fed. Reg. 7570 (1974) (emphasis supplied by Court of Appeals).
This reasoning is demonstrably incorrect. Public Law 93-237 itself said nothing at all about the availability of a reduced interest rate, the possibility of partial forgiveness of the loan principal, or the elimination of the requirement that credit be unavailable from other sources. It merely stated that "[n]otwithstanding the provisions of Public Law 93-24," loans with respect to disasters occurring prior to April 20, 1973, would
Moreover, the Court of Appeals' holding runs roughshod over the established proposition that an agency's construction of its own regulations is entitled to substantial deference. United States v. Larionoff, 431 U.S. 864, 872 (1977); Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1965). The publicity directive that was later codified at 7 CFR § 1832.82(a) (1975) was originally issued as a staff instruction designed to describe the procedures for implementing Pub. L. 93-237. App. to Pet. for Cert. 48a-49a. Accompanying the instruction was a sample press release identical in all pertinent respects to those sent to the media in the area of the Florida disaster. Id., at 50a-51a. Because the suggested release obviously reflected the agency's contemporaneous understanding of the scope of the publicity directive, it is logically untenable to suggest that the agency violated the directive by issuing press releases modeled explicitly on the sample.
The Court of Appeals specifically disclaimed any reliance on 7 CFR § 1832.3(a)(1) (1973), the Secretary's previous publicity directive, to support its affirmance of the District Court's judgment. As they are entitled to do, however, respondents now defend that judgment on the alternative theory that the agency's violation of this earlier notice provision warranted the remedy of an injunction reopening the loan program. We find this theory no more supportable than that relied on by the Court of Appeals. As an initial matter, any violations of this regulation that occurred during the first loan period are plainly irrelevant. Starting with their complaint, and throughout the course of this lengthy litigation, respondents have sought to have the loan program reopened
Nor do we believe that any noncompliance with the terms of 7 CFR § 1832.3 during the second loan period would justify the District Court's remedy.
By its terms, § 1832.3(a) requires only notice of the loan program in place at the time of the Presidential disaster declaration. See also § 1832.92 (1975) (describing § 1832.3 as
Any ambiguity about the regulation's reach is dispelled by the history of Pub. L. 93-237 itself. As the Court of Appeals recognized, Congress was acutely aware of confusion in the administration of the Nation's disaster relief laws when it enacted Pub. L. 93-237. 714 F. 2d, at 1516-1517. S. Conf. Rep. No. 93-363, p. 6 (1973). A central objective of the new Act was to correct this confusion by clarifying the credit terms available during this period and by requiring the Secretary to extend the application deadline to compensate for prior "uncertain[ties]" in the law. Ibid. Consistent with that objective, the Secretary announced in the Federal Register the new procedures the agency would follow to "implemen[t] applicable provisions of Public Law 93-237." 39 Fed. Reg. 7569 (1974). These procedures, which included the notice provision later codified at 7 CFR § 1832.82(a), were designed to "supplemen[t] and modif[y]" the procedures that had been in place under the old regime, including 7 CFR § 1832.3(a). While this language is ambiguous, the regulatory history strongly suggests that in adopting notice procedures specifically geared to the new law, the Secretary intended for those procedures to be the principal mechanism for spreading the word about Pub. L. 93-237 in areas in which a disaster had already been declared. Aware of Congress' belief that prior efforts to implement the old program had failed, this history suggests, the Secretary sought to take a different tack to assure effective implementation of the new one — notification of the media pursuant to § 1832.82.
This interpretation is confirmed by § 1832.92, also adopted as part of the FmHA's efforts to implement Pub. L. 93-237. 39 Fed. Reg. 7575 (1974). There, the Secretary specifically provided that for any "new" disaster designations, notice
We conclude, therefore, that the lower courts erred in holding that the Secretary's conduct violated the only notice procedures relevant to the implementation of Pub. L. 93-237. Accordingly, even assuming, arguendo, that reopening the loan program would have been an appropriate remedy had the relevant regulations been violated, awarding that relief was clearly improper in light of the FmHA's compliance with its own procedures. Nor can the relief be supported on the theory, not addressed by either court below, that inadequate notice of the loan program deprived respondents of property without due process of law. We have never held that applicants for benefits, as distinct from those already receiving them, have a legitimate claim of entitlement protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment. Walters v. National Assn. of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305, 320, n. 8 (1985). Even on the assumption that they do, however, the notice published in the Federal Register, as well as that afforded by the Secretary in full compliance with his own procedures, was more than ample to satisfy any due process concerns. See 44 U. S. C. § 1507 (Publication in
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.
When Congress enacts a generous program to provide relief for the victims of a natural disaster, the Secretary of Agriculture has a duty to implement that program in the spirit which motivated its enactment even if he believes a more parsimonious policy will serve the national interest. On January 2, 1974, Congress enacted such a program to benefit, among others, the Florida farmers who had suffered serious losses as the result of a disaster that the President had declared on May 26, 1973. Pub. L. 93-237. On the date the statute was enacted, as well as the date of the disaster and the date of the President's declaration, regulations were in place that required the Department to give appropriate notice to the State Director, the appropriate county officials, the agricultural lenders in the area, and the public. See 7 CFR § 1832.3(a) (1973). Ante, at 930-931, n. 1. The regulations plainly stated that effective notice should be given "immediately."
The District Court found — and the Court does not disagree — that the Secretary failed to comply with § 1832.3(a). For several weeks after the enactment of the statute, the Secretary took no public action. On February 27, he promulgated a new announcement — which was explicitly intended to "supplement" the existing notice regulations — requiring that advice be given to the news media. Pursuant to that announcement, an ambiguous and uninformative news release was prepared and distributed. The Court nevertheless holds that (1) the release complied with the supplementary regulation issued on February 27 and (2) the supplementary regulation somehow superseded the specific § 1832.3(a) notice provisions which were already in place when the
Before explaining in greater detail why I agree with the District Court and the Court of Appeals' findings concerning the Secretary's flagrant violation of the notice regulations, I shall briefly comment on the timeliness of the action and the Court's correct rejection of the Government's primary challenge to the propriety of that remedy.
This litigation was commenced on August 19, 1976. In the Court of Appeals, the Secretary contended that the action was not timely because the emergency loan program authorized by Pub. L. 93-237 expired on April 2, 1974. The Court of Appeals held, however, that "where, as here, exigent circumstances beyond the farmers' control precluded intended beneficiaries from applying for loans, the agency had the power to extend the loan period and the District Court was within its power in ordering the agency to do so. To hold otherwise would allow the FmHA to totally fail to provide notice to congressionally intended potential beneficiaries and avoid being called to task for such conduct." Payne v. Block, 714 F.2d 1510, 1517 (CA11 1983).
The Secretary has argued, however, that the remedy ordered by the District Court was improper because it rested on an equitable estoppel theory. The Court today correctly — and unanimously — rejects this argument, thus answering the central question of law that prompted it to grant
In 1972 and 1973, the Secretary of Agriculture took the position that he was not obligated to implement emergency loan programs authorized by Congress if he thought it was unwise
Second, after several months of uncertainty as to whether the old or the new terms applied to disasters during the period in which this case arose, Congress adopted Pub. L. 93-237 for the specific purpose of making the earlier, more generous loan terms available to a specific class of farmers, including those in northern Florida, who suffered severe crop losses as a result of a specific disaster. Thus, respondent farmers had two opportunities to apply for emergency loans — between May 26, 1973, and January 2, 1974, at the higher rate, and between January 2, 1974, and April 2, 1974, at the more favorable rate.
Throughout this period — and for several years thereafter — the Secretary's regulations provided a detailed procedure for giving notice "immediately" to the appropriate County Supervisors and requiring the State Directors to
The notice regulations that were in effect during the first application period remained in effect during the 90 days after the enactment of Pub. L. 93-237 on January 2, 1974.
On February 27, 1974, the Secretary did publish the conditions of the new program in the Federal Register, and also supplemented the existing notice regulation with the publication of staff instructions that State Directors and County Supervisors should inform the news media of the provisions of Pub. L. 93-237. See 39 Fed. Reg. 7569-7571.
It is thus perfectly clear that the Secretary did not comply with the § 1832.3(a) notice regulations that were in effect when Pub. L. 93-237 was enacted. The Court does not disagree with this conclusion. Rather, it takes the remarkable position that the failure to follow those notice provisions is irrelevant because the Secretary did comply with the instructions promulgated in February. This reasoning is severely flawed.
First, the Court's conclusion does not accord with the language and structure of the February 27 notice provisions. Nothing in these new staff instructions stated or implied that they were intended to replace or to withdraw any of the preexisting notice procedures. Instead, the published notice explicitly stated that the publication of the new provisions "supplements and modifies" the existing regulations, including § 1832.3(a). 39 Fed. Reg. 7569 (1974). "Supplementing" and "modifying" are hardly words that suggest the kind of wholesale obliteration envisioned by the majority.
Finally, the Court's analysis conflicts with the obvious purpose of Congress in passing Pub. L. 93-237. If the new instructions are given the construction that the Court accepts today, they enabled the Secretary to defy or ignore the will of Congress just as effectively as when he simply refused to make emergency loans on the terms authorized by Congress. Given the fact that regulations requiring adequate notice were in effect at the time Congress adopted a special statute to benefit the victims of specific disasters already declared by the President, surely the Secretary had a duty to comply with the pre-existing regulations during the 90-day period specified in the Act. To conclude otherwise, as the Court does, has an anomalous result. Under the Court's analysis, Congress, in liberalizing and extending the loan program, also created some kind of Bermuda Triangle that made blatant violations of the longstanding § 1832.3(a) notice requirements mysteriously disappear and have no legal effect. Indeed, the incongruous consequence of the Court's reasoning is that, if Congress had never passed the new statute, the Secretary would have continued to be bound by the extensive
Thus, the majority's conclusion that § 1832.3(a) did not apply to the Secretary's administration of Pub. L. 93-237 is erroneous.
I also disagree with the majority's conclusion that the Secretary's efforts satisfied the February 27 notice requirements, which were later codified at 7 CFR § 1832.82 (1975). Those duly promulgated requirements unequivocally stated a mandatory obligation: "State Director and County Supervisors will inform the news media including newspapers, radio, and television in the affected counties of the provisions of P. L. 93-237." 39 Fed. Reg. 7570 (1974). The Secretary does not argue that the single publication of the emergency loan terms in the Federal Register itself constituted compliance with this duty. His claim of compliance during the second application period also rests on the preparation and distribution of a news release. That release, however, did not disclose the loan terms that were authorized by Pub. L. 93-237. Indeed, the only reference to the new statute, the "provisions" of which the Department had a mandatory obligation to explain, was the following: "These loan applications will be taken under the terms of a new law (P. L. 93-237) enacted January 2, 1974." App. to Pet. for Cert. 57a.
An instruction to inform the news media "of the provisions of P. L. 93-237" surely should be construed to require that the news media be informed of the loan terms that the statute authorized.
In short, the Secretary followed neither the pre-existing § 1832.3 requirements nor the newly promulgated § 1832.82 requirements. The effect was predictable. Although thousands of farmers were eligible for the program, no more than four received loans. As a result, although Congress had shown its intense commitment to this program by repeatedly legislating and by honing the program in an attempt to overcome executive intransigence, the sustained congressional efforts went for naught.
In my opinion, the Court's holding allows an executive agency far too much discretion to disregard the plain intent of Congress. The Secretary did not implement the program authorized by Pub. L. 93-237 in the spirit in which it was enacted. "As conceived and passed in both Houses, the legislation was intended to provide a firm commitment of substantial sums within a relatively limited period of time in an effort to achieve an early solution of what was deemed an urgent problem. We cannot believe that Congress at the last minute scuttled the entire effort by providing the Executive with the seemingly limitless power to withhold funds from allotment and obligation." Train v. City of New York, 420 U. S., at 45-46. The failure to advise the farmers of the congressionally mandated loan provisions was merely a variant of the theme repudiated in Train.
I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
"(a) [W]here there is a Presidential major disaster declaration, the National Office will notify the State Director and the Finance Office of the name of the counties . . . eligible for Federal assistance under the declaration, and the period during which [emergency] loans will be made based on the major disaster. The State Director will notify the appropriate County Supervisors immediately, and instruct them to make [emergency] loans available . . . . The State Director will also notify the State USDA Defense Board Chairman and will make such public announcements as appear appropriate.
"(1) Immediately upon receiving notice about counties under his jurisdiction, the County Supervisor will notify the appropriate County USDA Defense Board Chairman and make such public announcements as appear appropriate about the availability of [loans]. Also, the County Supervisor will explain to other agricultural lenders in the area the assistance available under this program."
"We emphasize that Congress had previously invoked, and `expected' FmHA would invoke, a similar reopening remedy in 93-237 when potential beneficiaries of the program were confused as to the program's terms." 714 F. 2d, at 1517, n. 26.
To its credit, in rejecting the Government's equitable estoppel argument, the Court belatedly acknowledges that it unnecessarily prolonged this litigation by vacating the first judgment entered by the Court of Appeals in 1983 and remanding for further consideration in the light of our decision in Heckler v. Community Health Services, Inc., 467 U.S. 51 (1984). See Block v. Payne, 469 U.S. 807 (1984).
In light of the possible incongruity of considering this challenge 13 years after the natural disaster that triggered the loan obligations, moreover, it is important to emphasize that there has been no suggestion of dilatoriness by respondents. For unexplained reasons, the case took five years before it reached trial. Since then, it has been the Government that has prolonged the proceedings every step of the way — by appealing to the Court of Appeals; by asking this Court to dispose of the case in light of an equitable estoppel case; and by seeking certiorari again after the Court of Appeals correctly noted the inapplicability of the estoppel doctrine. Thus, the unusual length of time between the original program and our consideration of it is irrelevant; to the extent that it is relevant, the Government bears the responsibility for almost all of the delay.
"(a) . . . The State Director [of the FmHA] will notify the appropriate County Supervisors immediately and instruct them to make EM loans available under § 1832.13. His notification will be confirmed by State requirements issued as soon as possible. The State Director will also notify the State USDA Defense Board Chairman and will make such public announcements as appear appropriate.
"(1) Immediately upon receiving notice about the counties under his jurisdiction, the County Supervisor will notify the appropriate County USDA Defense Board Chairman and make such public announcements as appear appropriate about the availability of EM loans under § 1832.13. Also, the County Supervisor will explain to other agricultural lenders in the area the assistance available under this program." 7 CFR § 1832.3(a)(1) (1973).
"FmHA failed to comply with federal regulations specifically designed to transmit notice of available emergency loan programs to the public. FmHA made no loans during the initial application period and only a handful during the renewed period. . . .
"In light of FmHA's failure to comply with specific prescriptions for notice, we find it unnecessary to determine whether FmHA provided `such public announcements as appear appropriate' or whether in fact such a requirement is judicially reviewable. We do note, however, the paucity of public announcement during both the initial and reopened application periods. Especially is this continual dearth of public notice noteworthy where the state director testified that he and his staff were `flabbergasted' at the lack of response to the emergency loan program. . . .
"Our review of the record convinces us that the district court was not clearly erroneous in its six pages of findings of fact and that it was correct in its ultimate conclusion of insufficient notice." Payne v. Block, 714 F.2d 1510, 1519-1520 (CA11 1983) (footnote omitted).