When you read an opinion or order issued by the NTSB, you usually receive a basic explanation of the facts (e.g. who did what, when they did it, etc.) and then the Board addresses the legal issues. However, the factual explanation is usually limited to those facts that have a direct bearing on the Board’s decision. Unfortunately, the majority of opinions and orders don’t tell us what is really going on behind the minimal facts and legal issues. We can only imply, assume and try to read between the lines.
One very stark example is a recent Order in Administrator v. Roman. The case was apparently heard by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) who issued a decision from which both the airman and the FAA appealed. According to the Order, after filing their appeals the airman and the FAA filed a joint motion to vacate the ALJ’s oral initial decision because the parties had apparently reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, both parties agreed to withdraw their respective appeals with prejudice and the FAA agreed to withdraw its complaint against the airman with prejudice. The Board’s order granted the parties’ motion.
However, the Order doesn’t tell us how or why the parties reached their unusual resolution. Presumably, the ALJ’s decision, which is not discussed in the Order, was unacceptable to both parties, thus their appeals. And reaching an agreement in which both appeals are dismissed isn’t unusual. What is unusual is for the FAA to agree to dismiss its complaint in a case in which the ALJ found at least some regulatory violation by the airman. (After all, why else would the airman appeal the ALJ’s decision?)
Maybe the FAA determined that the case wasn’t worth the cost/effort of an appeal? Perhaps the FAA agreed to convert the sanction to a civil penalty? Unfortunately, the Order doesn’t provide us with an explanation. Certainly makes for curious reading.