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Grounds for Disqualification of Members or Officers

There are certain grounds that can be used to disqualify the members or officers of administrative agencies.  They are:

  • Bias;
  • Prejudgment of law or facts;
  • Proof and presumptions;
  • Improper receipt of evidence;
  • Involvement in investigation or prosecution;
  • Personal or pecuniary interest;
  • Target of criticism by party involved.

The Federal Administrative Procedure Act and the State Administrative Procedure Act provide that a presiding officer or participating employee is subject to disqualification due to bias.  Actual bias must be proved for disqualifying a hearing tribunal.

At times, personal bias or prejudice of an agency decision maker disqualifies him/her, if it is proven that the bias arise from an extrajudicial source[i] or conditions which makes rendering of a fair judgment impossible.  However, an adverse determination of credibility is insufficient to show bias[ii].

An administrative officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial power is disqualified or incompetent to sit in a proceeding in which s/he has prejudged the case.  The test for disqualification is whether a disinterested observer finds that the agency adjudged the facts and the law of a case in before hearing it.  Similarly, the due process is not violated by the participation of adjudicators who had a slight pecuniary interest in the outcome.  However, due process is violated by participating in decisions in which adjudicators have direct, personal, substantial, or pecuniary interest[iii].

Administrative agency decisions may be reversed as arbitrary or capricious if they indicate a lack of fair and careful consideration or fails to show any course of reasoning and the exercise of judgment'[iv]

Generally, it is presumed that the administrative decision makers are honest, acts in good faith and impartial.  Similarly, administrators serving as adjudicators are presumed to be unbiased[v].  This presumption can be rebutted by showing some substantial countervailing reason to prove that the decision maker is actually biased[vi]

Sometimes, an administrative officer becomes disqualified if the evidence is received in an improper manner.  In such cases, the disqualification is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case[vii].  Similarly, an administrative officer can be disqualified from adjudication in which s/he is the investigative or prosecuting staff.  The 1981 Model State Administrative Procedure Act provides that a person who has served as an investigator, prosecutor, or advocate in an adjudicative proceeding or its pre adjudicative stage or persons subject to the authority, direction, or discretion of such person cannot serve as a presiding officer or assist or advise a presiding officer in the same proceeding[viii].

An administrative officer is disqualified if s/he has a personal or pecuniary interest in the proceedings.  An administrative official can also be disqualified where s/he is related to an interested person[ix].  Likewise, if an administrative officer is charged with personal abuse or criticism by a party involved, it makes the administrative officer disqualified.

Therefore, it is evident that an administrative officer is disqualified under various circumstances which disable him/her from performing the administrative action.

[i] First Nat’l Monetary Corp. v. Weinberger, 819 F.2d 1334 (6th Cir. 1987)

[ii] Newsom v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1062 (N.D. Miss. Jan. 14, 2000)

[iii] Moraski v. Conn. Bd. of Examiners of Embalmers & Funeral Dirs., 291 Conn. 242, 264 (Conn. 2009)

[iv] ACT-UP Triangle v. Commission for Health Servs., 345 N.C. 699, 707 (N.C. 1997)

[v] Allen v. Cuomo, 100 F.3d 253 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1996)

[vi] Mr. & Mrs. V. v. York Sch. Dist., 434 F. Supp. 2d 5 (D. Me. 2006)

[vii] Daniels v. Police Bd., 338 Ill. App. 3d 851 (Ill. App. Ct. 2003)

[viii] Model State Administrative Procedure Act (1981) § 4-214.

[ix] Taylor v. County Comm’rs of Worcester, 105 Mass. 225 (Mass. 1870)

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