Appeals Court reaches mixed decision on USPS/PRC IMb dispute

The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today handed down its decision in the lawsuit brought by the US Postal Service against the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) over the PRC’s attempt to regulate new Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) rules. Mailers had claimed that the regulations increased their costs, and therefore were price increases that needed to be counted against the postal service’s rate cap for “Market Dominant” services. The PRC sided with the mailers, so the USPS appealed to the Court, claiming that the law clearly prohibited the PRC from “characterizing mail preparation requirements as changes in rates.”

Today’s decision rejects the postal service’s claim, finding the law “ambiguous” on that point. But while the Court found that the PRC could determine that a change in the rules amounted to a rate hike, “The standard enunciated by the Commission to determine when requirements changes are ‘changes’ in rates” seems boundless and, thus, unreasonable; and the Commission’s inconsistent application of the standard in this case proves the point.” The Court went so far as to find that “The Commission’s judgment in this case ‘lacks any coherence. We therefore owe no deference to [the Commission’s] purported expertise because we cannot discern it. We therefore remand the case to the Commission to enunciate an intelligible standard and then reconsider its decision in light of that standard.”

The entire decision is available here (.pdf file).