David Holbrook v. Tennessee Valley Authority, No. 21-1415 (4th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The Tennessee Valley Authority sells its power to the BVU Authority in Virginia, one of its many customers. The BVU Authority in turn sells its power to local consumers who need electricity. Among those local consumers is Plaintiff, who believes that the TVA has a statutory duty to use the fruits of its sales to large industrial buyers to subsidize consumers’ electricity consumption. Plaintiff believes that a string of TVA rate changes, shifting costs from industry to consumers, were illegal. So he sued BVU Authority and TVA under three theories, which all more or less amount to claims that the TVA failed to live up to its statutory duties under Section 11. The district court dismissed all three claims because TVA’s rate-making authority is committed to agency discretion and thus unreviewable.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of all three of Plaintiff’s claims. The court explained that Section 11 of the TVA Act lays out broad policies and goals that operate more like aspirations than commands. It does not support any of the claims that Plaintiff offers against TVA or BVU Authority. TVA rate-making is a presumptively unreviewable category of agency action under 701(a)(2), and the policy-laden language of Section 11 does not provide any guidelines or limits to overcome that presumption. Because the TVA-BVU contract simply repeats the vague statutory language, Plaintiff’s contract claim is really a statutory claim in disguise, and Section 11 of the TVA Act does not provide a private cause of action.