Relevancy and Factual Basis


An administrative agency whose primary duty is to ensure that laws are enforced, cannot exercise powers of original inquiry.  An agency with the power of inquisition or investigation  can investigate to ensure that there is no violation of law.  When a statute delegates investigative duties to an administrative body, it should ensure that such agencies act within these statutory limits.

The information sought in the course of an administrative investigation must be reasonable and relevant to the investigation.  An investigation shall be considered appropriate only if the evidence sought is material and relevant to the lawful purpose of the agency. In EEOC v. Kloster Cruise, Ltd., 939 F.2d 920 (11th Cir. Fla. 1991),  the court held that while enforcing an administrative subpoena, the district court’s role is sharply limited and that the inquiry is appropriate only if the evidence sought is material and relevant to a lawful purpose of the agency[i]. 

There must be some factual basis to support the investigation and it should appear to be relevant and material to the investigation.  The facts and circumstance of a case should also favor such investigation.  It should not be based on mere conjuncture or supposition that there exists some violation of law.  Rather the agency should demonstrate a factual basis to support its investigation.  In Unnamed Attorney v. Attorney Grievance Com., (313 Md. 357)[ii], the court while defining the appropriate boundaries of the commission’s power in issuing subpoena, has held that the guiding principle should be the requirement of reasonableness which determines an administrative agency’s investigatory powers. Further, the inquiry should be authorized by statute, the information sought should be relevant to the inquiry, and the demand should not be too indefinite or overbroad.

[i]  See also, EEOC v. John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68699, 14-15 (N.D. Ga. Sept. 25, 2006). 

[ii]  See also Unnamed Atty. v. Atty. Griev. Comm’n, (409 Md. 509, 521-522 (Md. 2009)