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Copyright (c) 2011 Regents of the University of California
UC Davis Law Review

ARTICLE: Expert Court, Expert Agency

June, 2011

UC Davis Law Review

44 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1547


Sapna Kumar*


In Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 1 the Supreme Court clarified the standard for how federal courts review agency interpretations of ambiguous statutory language. Chevron is based, in part, on the idea that agencies have superior expertise and institutional advantages over courts. 2 In general, agencies have detailed knowledge of their organic statutes and possess broad factfinding resources. This places agencies in a better position than courts with regard to interpreting ambiguous statutory language. Consequently, under Chevron, courts are required to defer to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous statutory language. But what happens when both the court and the agency are experts in the same area of law?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ("Federal Circuit") is a semi-specialized Article III court whose jurisdiction includes appeals of cases that arise under the Patent Act. 3 The Federal Circuit also hears appeals of patent decisions from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") and the U.S. International Trade Commission ("ITC"). Because about one-third of the Federal Circuit's docket is comprised of patent-related cases, 4 the judges of the court have developed broad expertise in patent law. The court also hears appeals from various non-patent agencies. 5

The Federal Circuit treats appeals from patent agencies differently than those from non-patent agencies. The Federal Circuit has granted Chevron or the lesser Skidmore deference 6 to decisions from all of its non-patent agencies. 7 In contrast, the Federal Circuit has historically chosen not to defer to agencies ...
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