Citing Consolidated Edison Co. of New York v Department of Environmental Conservation, 71 NY2d 186, the Court said that administrative agencies have "all the powers expressly delegated to [them] by the Legislature" and are "permitted to adopt regulations that go beyond the text of [their] enabling legislation, so long as those regulations are consistent with the statutory language and underlying purpose."
Although "an administrative agency may not, in the exercise of [its] rule-making authority engage in broad-based public policy determinations ... [t]he cornerstone of administrative law is ... the principle that the Legislature may declare its will, and after fixing a primary standard, endow administrative agencies with the power to fill in the interstices in the legislative product by prescribing rules and regulations consistent with the enabling legislation."
Further, the Court said it has long recognized that "where flexibility is required to enable an administrative agency to adapt to changing conditions, it is sufficient if the Legislature confers broad power upon the agency to fulfill the policy goals embodied in the statute, leaving it up to the agency itself to promulgate the necessary regulatory details."
The standard for judicial review of those regulatory details "'is whether the regulation has a rational basis and is not unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious." Where the legislature has left to an agency's discretion the determination of "what specific standards and procedures are most suitable to accomplish the legislative goals," the agency's rule making powers, "[i]f reasonably designed to further the regulatory scheme, ... cannot be disturbed by the courts unless the provision is arbitrary, illegal or runs afoul of the enabling legislation or constitutional limits ... regardless of [the court's] assessment of the 'wisdom' of the agency's approach."
The Court explained that the regulations as amended by OVS "are fully consistent with the governing statutory language and purpose," and thus are "within OVS's authority, and rational." Notwithstanding the Petitioners' argument and the dissent's reasoning to the contrary, the Court concluded that the statute, when read as a whole, grants OVS the authority to determine whether attorneys' fees are "reasonable."
Noting that "there may be other valid ways in which OVS could have defined 'reasonable' attorneys' fees," the definition in the amended regulations is rational and the application of those regulations to deny the Petitioners' fee applications "was not arbitrary and capricious."
Finding that the regulations as amended by OVS were consistent with the statutory language and OVS had "appl[ied] its special expertise in a particular field to interpret [that] statutory language," the Court held that OVS' determination was entitled to deference and, reversing the decision of the Appellate Division, reinstated the judgement of the Supreme Court.
* See 9 NYCRR §§525.3, 525.9
** Executive Law Article 22,
The text of the decision of the Court of Appeals is posted on the Internet at: